Moving Forward: Teaching in Uncertain Times

Community Blog on online, hybrid, and F2F teaching during the pandemic


Synchronous vs. Asynchronous?

Prior to March 2020 the differences between synchronous and asynchronous teaching may not have been something you thought much about.  However, as online teaching continues, we need to put more thoughtful consideration into which online modality will work best for our students and courses. Synchronous instruction promotes consistency for student schedules but there are concerns about student technology access and effectiveness for large courses. Can you require your students to have their cameras on? How can you tell if your students are even paying attention? Asynchronous instruction promotes flexibility, but there are concerns about students who are not staying on track and who have difficulty with time management. What can you do about students not logging in?  While there are pros and cons for both approaches, you can set-up a positive class culture and infuse your personality into both synchronous and asynchronous courses. You can also design a course that uses elements of both approaches.

Synchronous:  You can create engagement in synchronous courses by using polls, breakout rooms, and emoji chats. Use the polling feature in WebEx or Zoom or one of the many polling apps (Poll Everywhere or Slido). Polls can be set-up to be anonymous or have names recorded (check the app for this feature) can be social or content focused. For social polls you can ask about student moods or thoughts while content-oriented polls serve a similar purpose as a clicker questions during F2F lectures. You can take attendance from the poll responses or assign participation points.  Breakout rooms (via WebEx and Zoom) are a great way to make a large class feel small. You can have the small groups explore a problem or answer a question during the breakout using a shared doc or a comment that they can post in the chat.  Consider requiring that students have their cameras on during the sessions and then you move back and forth between groups to ensure that students are interacting. Emoji chats are a way for students to post who they feel about a concept in the chat and let you know if students have questions and are following along. They can post happy faces 😀 if they’re making progress or sad faces 😞 if they need you to repeat and review.

Asynchronous:  It is important to set-up a welcome module and introduce yourself and have your students introduce themselves to you and each other in either a discussion post or VoiceThread.  Polls or surveys can also be used in asynchronous courses—just keep them open for a designated amount of time and share the results. Including non-required synchronous check-ins is especially helpful for underclassmen. Record and the post the sessions for students who can’t attend. If you’d like to assign extra credit for attending, post a question in the session that students must answer in the chat (for attending in real time) or embed a quiz question in the recording before you post that students can answer via the Kaltura quiz feature.  

The Faculty Focus Live Podcast has a useful 11 min. episode that explores various ways to use these different online modalities, “Asynchronous vs Synchronous: Engaging, Conveying, Injecting, and Building”. To listen to the podcast (and learn more about the series) please go here:

lcarruth • February 24, 2021

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  1. Leslie Leighton March 3, 2021 - 7:56 pm

    I enjoyed reading this article by Laura Carruth. I have been using the “Virtual Classroom” on Top Hat with great success. It allows me to teach synchronously and interact with questions and chats with my students. Attendance is automatically taken. They see me but there is no requirement for them to have a webcam and we chat back and forth using the chat box feature. I find it to be the next best thing to being face to face in the classroom and scores on tests and class attendance have never been higher. Now my second semester using TH Virtual Classroom and although I much prefer being in the classroom with my students it is not a bad alternative. Response from my students has also been generally positive.

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