You are here

Asynchronous Teaching Tips

The purpose of online teaching is not to perfectly replicate the traditional classroom experience. That’s impossible! Instead, think about the courses you have taught in a classroom and imagine how you can adapt it for the online environment. With some experimentation and imagination, you can include elements in your course that will still help your students achieve your learning outcomes without sacrificing a legitimate educational experience.

What is Synchronous Learning?

Synchronous learning is the type of learning and teaching that happens in a traditional classroom. Everyone is in the same place, at the same time, and interactions are instantaneous.

What is Asynchronous Learning?

Asynchronous learning can take place at any place and at any time. Student-student and student-instructor interactions still take place, but there may be a delay depending on the technology used. This type of learning is best suited to situations where students are in different locations with different technological backgrounds and resources or may not all be available at a specific date and time.

What courses are a good match for Asynchronous Learning?

Almost every course can include asynchronous components.

How do I teach Asynchronously?

I. Break Up Long Lectures

Some students may have a hard time paying attention to lengthy lecture content. We have found that 5 minutes is the point at which they become distracted and start focusing on something else.

Instead of holding class-length Zoom meetings or recording videos of full-length lectures, consider recording several short 8 to 10-minute micro-lectures. This is recommended because:

  • Students are much more likely to watch several short videos than one very long video.
  • It is easier to organize and retain knowledge that is delivered in smaller “chunks.”
  • It is easier for students to locate and review a specific topic that they find difficult.

Recording lectures can be simplified by using our video EduTools: 

  • Panopto: A video recording and hosting EduTool that features quizzing options.
  • VoiceThread: A video recording and hosting EduTool that features student interaction options.
  • Zoom: A web-conferencing EduTool that features video and recording options.

II. Encourage Student Interaction

Having students interact with one another is a challenge in an asynchronous environment. Fortunately, there are many technologies that allow students to hold discussions and work together without physically being in the same space. Some of these include:

  • Forums: Provides a platform for students to have text-based discussions with one another and with the instructor (Learn more with this video).
  • VoiceThread: Allows audio and video discussions between students.
  • Workshop: Allows students to provide peer-to-peer feedback.
  • Glossary: Students work together to post words and definitions they can use as study material.
  • Wiki: Students collaboratively build a webpage within Moodle.

III. Encourage Active Learning

Active learning is an important part of retention. Encourage active learning by creating activities that require student participation. If possible, issue grades for completing the activity as a further incentive. Some recommended activities include:

  • Assignments: Allows a student to upload a file or enter content for submission.
  • Feedback: Poses an instructor-written series of survey-style questions to students.
  • Quizzes: A method of assessing student learning (Read a Quiz Quick Guide) (Learn more with this video).
  • URLs: Provide links to websites, YouTube videos, etc. that others have made that will enhance student understanding.
  • VoiceThread Assignments: Students can demonstrate their understanding by creating and uploading an audio/visual presentation.

IV. Communicate Expectations

To prevent student confusion, try to clearly express your plans and expectations to them in a prominent location in the class. A good place for this is the course syllabus or a course Introduction Page in Moodle. Here are some items to consider addressing:

  • How much time should students set aside weekly to spend on course work?
  • Where should students look for announcement, Q&As, and updates about the course?
  • When are activities due?
  • Which activities are mandatory, and which are optional?
  • What is a time frame for replies to email communications and questions posted on discussion forums?
  • When should students expect feedback on assignments?

V. Provide Effective Feedback

Providing effective feedback that is timely and meaningful gives students tangible evidence of their performance and enhances the sense of support and care. Effective feedback offers recognition of good work as well as specific suggestions for improvement. It can also encourage students to articulate their confusion or difficulty with course content, projects, requirements, or instructions for activities.

Quizzes and Exams

Apply the following strategies to provide effective feedback on quizzes and exams:

  • Include automated feedback responses for each question.
  • Indicate strengths and weaknesses.
  • Provide clear, concrete, and specific feedback so students can understand what they need to do in order to improve their performance.
  • Provide concrete examples to guide learners to improve.
  • Focus on specific content areas, skills, and objectives.
  • Use encouraging wording for both correct and incorrect feedback.
Written Assignments
  • Follow these do’s and don’ts for providing effective feedback on written assignments:
  • Limit the focus to patterns of error, global concerns, and learning objectives.
  • Encourage problem solving by using statements like “How could you clarify ___?” or “What’s another way to ___?”
  • Focus on the task, not student ability.
  • Be specific (Ex. “Great use of evidence in this section!” and “What did you mean in this part?”).
  • Use a rubric to organize feedback and determine a grade.
  • Offer links to digital resources.
  • Consider using peer and self-assessments.
  • Consider offering a teacher conference via Zoom or Moodle chat.
  • Use all the technology at hand, such as audio comments and digital annotations.
Online Discussions

In discussion forums, encourage students to participate and learn by offering feedback that:

  • Promotes openness and allows different opinions to exist.
  • Diagnoses misconceptions without delay to avoid further misunderstanding or confusion.
  • Provides timely responses to comments and questions.
  • Provides links or references to additional resources for further study.
  • Uses gentle reminders to carry the discussion further or redirects discussion from inappropriate topics.
  • Encourages students to use examples, real cases, or literature to support their views.

Use the following tools to provide feedback:

  • Turnitin: Allows faculty to provide detailed feedback on written assignments with the added benefit of ensuring that students are submitting original and properly cited work.
  • VoiceThread: Allows faculty to provide audio/video /text feedback asynchronously.
  • Forum: Allows faculty to post comments and rate student posts.
  • Assignment: Allow faculty to collect work from students, review it, and provide feedback including grades.

VI. Add Instructor Presence

Interacting with students online is not as spontaneous as face-to-face classes. Given the physical distance and reduced communication cues between students and instructor, online students can feel disconnected or isolated from their instructors when they do not interact with them regularly. Therefore, establishing instructor presence and actively engaging with students are particularly important for students enrolled in asynchronous online courses.

Below are examples of ways to establish instructor presence in your course.

Posting Weekly Announcements

The announcement forum is an easy place to communicate with the entire class, even if only once a week. News items can include:

  • Reminders or previews of upcoming assignments.
  • Comments on or a summary of a current discussion.
  • General comments on how the class did on a test or assignment.
  • Remediation on a misunderstood or muddy learning point with examples from student work.
  • A link to a relevant video or article.
  • Personal news you’d like to share with the class.
Giving a Weekly Introduction

Providing a weekly introduction at the top of each week/module helps indicate to students that there is actually an instructor who is leading the course. The introduction doesn’t need to be long: 1 or 2 sentences max. It can also be a short video or audio recording (1-2 minutes).

Providing a Weekly Wrap-up

A weekly wrap-up helps replicate an often-missed aspect of face-to-face classes, the ability to summarize, synthesize, and correct students’ misconceptions. At the beginning of each week, post something to synthesize what you did last week. Point out common themes, correct any misconceptions, state when students can expect detailed feedback, and say briefly what’s coming next. The weekly wrap-up could be text or a video/audio recording. These wrap-ups should be informal, show the instructor’s personality, and be specific.

Setting Up Virtual Office Hours

This can be as simple as setting a time when students can contact you by email and know that they will get a quick response. Other options for online office hours include using Moodle chat and Zoom.

  • Moodle Chat: Allows instructors and students to hold real-time, text-based conversations.
  • Zoom: Allows instructors to meet online with audio or video and share or annotate on a screen.
Setting Up Some Synchronous Sessions

Asynchronous courses have no real-time contact with students. Synchronous sessions in online courses allow online students to interact with the instructor and peers in real time. Synchronous sessions in an online course improve students' sense of community and social presence.

Zoom is one of the most frequently used web conferencing tools. Using Zoom, instructors can give lectures, share the screen, and authorize students to talk or share documents online for presentation or discussion.

VII. Monitor Student Activity

Monitoring student progress gives instructors the opportunity to ensure student achievement, identify students at risk, and provide intervention when required. There are several ways to track student progress in Moodle.

  • Checklist: Allows instructors to create a "To-do" list for learners to check off items as they are completed and provide a visual representation of what has been accomplished. Instructors can monitor learner progress as they complete items on the list.
  • Logs: Show what a student has interacted with on the course site and when the student did it.
  • Course Participation: Generate a participation report for a particular activity in your course.