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Building Asynchronous Engagement

Effective online courses balance structured asynchronous activities with purposeful, engaging synchronous sessions. Asynchronous assignments can deepen connections between students and with course material, and help overcome some of the disruption caused when students who had expected and hoped to be studying in person together are forced by circumstance to do so apart. Asynchronous activities can also reduce a course’s reliance on the high-bandwidth connectivity that is required when all interactions are done synchronously using video conferencing software. Relying too heavily on synchronous activities can heighten the negative impact of technical difficulties.

Advantages of Asynchronous work

Asynchronous activities can help minimize the Zoom fatigue that is likely to build when not just courses are happening remotely, but all work is online. You might consider replacing every third or fourth synchronous meeting with a forum or blogging assignment, or a research and reporting assignment during the off week. Purposeful integration of asynchronous work can help sustain student motivation and energy, and create additional energy and material to consider for synchronous moments. Asynchronous activities also potentially give faculty additional opportunities to provide targeted feedback.

Setting up Asynchronous work 

Asynchronous work requires clear communication. Use a predictable schedule — such as a weekly email at the same time — to provide students with important scheduling information and course updates, and to demonstrate that you’re present and engaged in the class. Communications should be clear about benchmarks and deadlines.

Asynchronous Assignment Ideas

Pre-recorded Lectures Using Video and/or Audio

  • Accept lower production value, and emphasize authenticity and enthusiasm
  • Strive for short clips, which are easier to produce and revise, and are more likely to hold students attention.
  • End lectures with a question or prompt and welcome student responses in writing or in class
  • If audio is sufficient for your lecture, use it, and post the audio file in a format such as MP3 that maximizes flexibility in consumption.

Online Discussion Forums

  • Create a space for students to post/share reading analyses, questions, or ideas to get conversation and ideas flowing before synchronous class meetings
  • Use discussion boards, blogs, or other online forums to deepen engagement with readings
  • Provide open-ended prompts to jump start discussions or use targeted questions to evaluate student understanding and synthesis of course material
  • Consider allowing audio or video posts in addition to text
  • Have peers review and comment on each others’ writing

Reading Groups, Discussion and Social annotation

  • Create reading groups on your course site with ongoing, threaded discussions.
  • Use digital tools like Manifold or Hypothes.is to engage students in shared annotation and note-taking on assigned texts before class

To engage in further discussion or ask questions, join the GC Online Commons Group here.


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