Navigate: Delineating Between Synchronous and Asynchronous Content Quest

posted May 17, 2016, 5:41 AM by Emily Kroutil   [ updated May 19, 2016, 8:12 AM ]
My physics class has been flipped for a few years now.  The students watch videos that I've created (at home, ideally) and we work together in class to solve problems and clear up misconceptions.  They also take daily quizzes.  This is partially to keep them accountable, but mostly to show them what they know.  If they don't do well on a quiz, we discuss it, and then they can retake it when they are ready to demonstrate mastery.  This type of classroom set up is known as blended, because I see my students in class but also "work with them" at home through my instructional videos.

Asynchronous delivery is useful for parts of class that do not require a back-and-forth, give-and-take, or real-time interaction between the teacher and students.  My flipped classroom videos are a type of asynchronous learning.  If students are accessing the material when they feel like, rather than all of us interacting together online, it is considered asynchronous.  The LMS I have set up for my students is a method of asynchronous delivery.  When I email students to remind them of assignments, set up pop-up reminders, send them reminders via Remind101 that is also asynchronous.  I create the content or reminder and they access it at their convenience.  This blog is a method of asynchronous delivery because I am creating content and someone (maybe, hopefully...) reads it later on their own time.  

If you have a 100% virtual classroom, it is important to also incorporate some synchronous methods as well.  This is when the teacher and students interact in real-time.  There are a variety of ways this can happen.  Teachers and students can communicate via a messenger app, where they can chat back and forth.  This can be useful for simple questions.  Some concepts really do require face-to-face interaction.  This is difficult to do in a completely virtual environment where the students and teachers are from an extended geographic area.  So, this can be accomplished via a Google Hangout or Skype or some other virtual meeting software.  As part of my involvement with Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary as the K-12 Representative on the council, we often have webinar meetings.  This is useful if you want to chat about things, but people tend to "zone out" or lose focus because there is no accountability as far as paying attention is concerned.  This is a useful way to get a lot of people together, but it's important to keep everyone engaged and not have it continue too long.  It's also nice because not everyone has a webcam or a way to video chat.  

Each of the methods, synchronous and asynchronous, have their place in a virtual classroom.  I think that if you were to rely solely on asynchronous methods, you would lose that interaction with the students and sometimes they need that real-time interaction.  However, if you tried to base your entire online class on synchronous methods, it would be a long time to be in front of the computer screen for both teacher and students.  Also, students often enroll in virtual classes because they have a special schedule or considerations that make traditional schooling not possible, so requiring them to be in a certain place at a certain time, eliminates the freedom that motivated them to sign up for virtual school in the first place.