You may have noticed that the activities in our courses are asynchronous, meaning the course does not require the participants to be online at the same time. Interactions occur through discussion boards, email, announcements, and assessment feedback.
But many articles about online learning mention synchronous activities (those that require students and the instructor to be online together at the same time). Some of our new instructors initially become excited about the idea of using these Web 2.0 tools to instantly engage with their students in class meetings, mimicking the interactions they might have if they were in the classroom together.
However, we do not encourage the use of synchronous class activities for several reasons.
- Students access our courses from all over the country—sometimes from other continents. Additionally, many of our students have professional and personal obligations that prevent them from logging in at specific times for online class meetings. For this reason, all required course components must be available asynchronously.
- Our standards call for required course material and course material that adds new content to be ADA compliant. This means videos should be captioned and classroom tools should be compatible with screen readers, which can be a challenge with synchronous class meetings.
- Some instructors do decide to hold optional class meetings or office hours in online meeting rooms. However, iDocs is unable to provide technical support for these meetings, so those tasks, such as helping students who have trouble logging in, troubleshooting audio or video, fall on the instructor.
- Because they cannot be required, synchronous class meetings are usually not well attended.
There are alternatives ways to strengthen your social connection with your students.
- Offer optional one-on-one video conferences with students or groups. It’s much easier to schedule meetings with small groups or individuals than with the entire class.
- Host a live AMA (Ask Me Anything) session at a time when many students are likely to be available. You can do this in a Discussion topic set up specifically for this AMA. Because it’s a discussion topic, students can easily submit their questions or comments ahead of time as a new thread in the topic, and those who can make it to the AMA can assume their questions or comments will be responded to quickly (and may be more willing to ask questions they consider minor). This is also a good way to include guest experts into the class. Consider offering a small grade incentive for participation. Be sure to remind all involved to refresh their screens periodically!