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Synchronous & Asynchronous Remote Instruction

Broadly, there are two “types” of facilitation that instructors can consider to support student learning, synchronous and asynchronous. Instructors should plan to use a combination of both when teaching remotely.

  1. Synchronous: Instructors and students interact at the same time (e.g. the scheduled class time) utilizing video conferencing tools (such as Zoom) and discussion forums (such as on Canvas).

    1. Benefits include immediate personal engagement and more responsive exchanges between students and instructors, which may help prevent feelings of isolation and alleviate moments of misunderstanding.

    2. Drawbacks include (but are not limited to) technical challenges or difficulties when students do not have fast internet access, students cannot attend class because of illness, and/or students are in a different time zone.

  1. Asynchronous: Instructors prepare instructional materials for students in advance of students’ access. Students may access the materials at a time of their choosing and interact with the materials and each other and complete activities over a longer period of time (e.g. with a deadline at the end of each week in the quarter).

    1. Benefits include higher levels of temporal flexibility, which may make the learning experience more accessible to different students, as well as potentially increased cognitive engagement since students have more time to engage with and explore the course material.

    2. Drawbacks include decreased feelings of engagement, and increased chances for misunderstanding without real-time interaction and immediate feedback.

It is essential that all instructors and TAs plan for elements of asynchronous participation even if the course is meeting synchronously, since consistent internet and computer access is not universal, and since there is a possibility that some students may become sick and unable to attend a virtual class session. In addition, some students who have returned to permanent residences will be accessing course materials in significantly different time zones. The simplest and recommended option is to teach synchronously on Zoom and record.

With this in mind, it is recommended that instructors and teaching teams consider what needs to be done synchronously to achieve learning goals and build a sense of community, and to decide what elements of student participation and learning can be achieved using tools and materials that can be accessed asynchronously. When opting for real-time, synchronous learning, teaching teams should create alternatives for when students are unable to attend (such as recording the synchronous instruction).