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As you are preparing to teach online this winter, there are decisions that you will need to make about what material to keep in your virtual classes (synchronously), what materials students can learn by themselves (asynchronously), and what material to cut out. Here are two questions to ask yourself:

  1. What are the things that work best synchronously and asynchronously?
  2. How can you leverage asynchronous learning to help you conduct more effective synchronous sessions?
You may refer back to the following Synchronous vs Asynchronous Balancing Act‘s article that provides useful strategies to start thinking about the mix of synchronous and asynchronous teaching, and how they can support each other.

There are various approaches that can be considered when moving online. Below are 10 important considerations when planning your online course.

1. Finding the right balance between synchronous and asynchronous teaching

Probably the most important element to consider when transitioning to online teaching: finding the right balance between synchronous and asynchronous teaching. As the first question points out, there are certain things that work better synchronously, and others that could be done asynchronously to support a live session.

Synchronous teaching works best for the following:

  • Exchanges of perspectives among your students.
  • Students learning from each other.
  • Interactions or group work that you facilitate.
  • Situations where you provide feedback and guidelines to students.

Asynchronous learning works best for the following:

  • Students developing a common foundation before class (e.g. basic concepts, ideas).
  • Students learning the material by themselves at their own pace. This is useful if prior knowledge of the material varies a lot across students.
  • Students spending time reflecting on the material.

Using a Blended Learning Approach

To answer the second question, it is helpful to approach asynchronous teaching as a mean to support what is done during a live session. This approach involves mixing synchronous and asynchronous components to help students achieve the learning goals. This mixing is often referred to as a blended learning approach.

Blended learning requires careful planning of synchronous and asynchronous components, so that they complete each other. It is important to clearly indicate to students how synchronous or asynchronous components complete each other, to make sure they are relevant and meaningful to students. Make sure there is alignment between the learning objectives, the instructional strategies (what you teach), the learning activities and the assessment methods.

  • Short video lectures. You can create short pre-recorded video lectures and upload them into Brightspace. Students can view the videos by themselves at their own pace before a live lecture.
  • An online module. You can create a module composed of readings, short video clips, lecture notes to help students prepare for a live session. Students can complete a short quiz after the live session on Brightspace.
  • A case study. Students individually engage with the material on Brightspace in advance, to prepare for a group activity that will be conducted during a live session.

All these examples can allow you to maximize the time spent during a live lecture, or reduce it. You can use the live lectures to:

  • Further engage with students through activities (individual or in groups) with the same instructional time;
  • Focus more on student engagement with time-reduced instruction.
Note: You may also decide to replace an entire live session by an online module (asynchronous), and have a mix of synchronous and asynchronous with relatively equal weighting (e.g. Week 1 synchronous, Week 2 asynchronous, etc.).

2. Save time in course design and course organization

You may want to consider using a course template, a pre-created Brightspace course that can save you time in the design and organization of your course.

3. Simplicity and Consistency: Create a Predictable Rhythm

Regardless of the format of your course, you may want to consider organizing and structuring your course into a predictable rhythm. This rhythm will help your students organize their time and can add predictability to your course.

Structure and organize your content using Modules and sub-modules to make the content easy to access (consider the number of clicks it takes to get somewhere or access a certain document). Provide a consistent structure for the course and a consistent module sequence to lay out your course. Consistency will make it easier to think about what to develop and add to your course.

4. Consider Student Workload

When combining synchronous and asynchronous teaching, there is a risk of adding too much content online. We call this the course-and-a-half syndrome. Consider the time needed to complete the readings, learning activities and assessments. You may want to consider reducing the time of synchronous teaching.

The following document “Ensuring Appropriate Student Workload in Online Courses” (pdf) will help you determine the a well-balanced workload.

5. Consider Teaching Team workload

It is important to think about the time that you will spend developing your course, particularly the asynchronous content. Creating pre-recorded videos, learning activities and assessments online take time. If you are planning to have discussions online, how will you monitor the discussions? Planning the live lectures also requires time and practice to familiarize yourself with the web-conferencing tool options. If you are planning to use the chat, who will monitor it and answer student questions? How will you manage group work (e.g. using Breakout Rooms, Channels)?

6. Select the appropriate technology

There are various tools that can be used to support synchronous (Zoom, MS Teams, Adobe Connect) and asynchronous teaching (Brightspace), and student engagement. Here are some tips on how to select learning technology.

7. Think about your role online

This brings back to the concept of teaching presence. Everything you do online is about setting up a presence, communicating with students, facilitating discussions (synchronously or asynchronously), providing feedback, answering questions, etc.

8. Establish a clear communication strategy

This is an important if not the most important aspect of online teaching. What can be expected from you? What is the best way to reach out to you? How quickly will you respond? You may want to consider setting up virtual office hours, and use various communication tools (e.g. email, announcements, discussions). Make sure to clearly indicate your strategy to the students early in the course.

9. Give opportunities for practice

Consider frequent low-stakes assessments over high-stakes exams, giving students more opportunities to practice and demonstrate their learning. Give frequent feedback to students on their learning, and offer opportunities to receive feedback in return. Consult the Mid-course feedback survey that you can then adapt to your course needs (Word document).

10. Implement inclusive teaching practices that support student wellbeing.

Implement inclusive teaching practices that support student wellbeing. An example can be the adoption of a code of conduct for synchronous sessions, so as to establish a reassuring learning environment for all the students.

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