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Surviving & Thriving in Synchronous and Asynchronous Online Instruction: What We Learned
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By Kimberly Koledoye
Of the many challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic, arguably few were as impactful as the disruption to education, particularly higher education. As many K-12 and higher education entities realized, they were ill-prepared to convert masses of students to online learning. I am confident that the literature on this topic will be available in abundance in the days to come. Undoubtedly higher education was more prepared, but not enough to go 100% online. In fact, prior to the pandemic only one-third of all U.S. college students had some type of online learning experience (Gallagher & Palmer, 2020). Therefore, most colleges and students had to figure out how to best navigate the world of online learning.
An enormity of decisions were made and continue to be made as the needs of this evolving situation are addressed, including joint or isolated decisions of administrators regarding which learning modalities to offer. Regardless of modality, it became evident that there still was a lot of work to be done to help professors prepare to deliver instruction online. There was an enormous learning curve for both students and instructors that many educators underestimated. In the spring when we were abruptly pushed online, everyone was pretty understanding of the technical hiccups. However, in the fall, faculty were met with a higher degree of expectation in our abilities to effectively deliver online instruction. For those instructors who had been previously teaching online, the curve wasn’t as steep. However, for many faculty including myself, synchronous online instruction was a new challenge.
Whether teaching synchronously, asynchronously, or in a blended format, a lot of preparation is required. Converting face-to-face courses to be delivered online requires more than just posting problems or exams, and I think many of us quickly realized that this approach was not going to be enough to engage students who never even wanted to take online classes. Research suggests a necessary creative balance between pedagogy and available technology that supports faculty in their efforts to design, deliver, and create course designs and content (Olapiriyakul & Scher, 2006). As such, we made some changes and the outcomes have been promising. Here’s what many practitioners, including my own institution, learned:
Although there is arguably merit in lecture, it cannot be the foundation of the course (Gooblar, 2019). Students require opportunities to engage with material in an active way to learn (Gooblar, 2018). Even during face to face class lectures, professors can gauge students’ reactions and pause for questions/comments. It is much more difficult to effectively monitor these reactions online when the slide show encompasses the screen. The challenge is to offer lectures in more condensed formats. Chunking more complex topics makes them more accessible to students.
Video is important. Whether delivering a class synchronously or asynchronously, recording what was said and done is helpful. Without diving into socio-economic inequities that present themselves when students are required to be online, focused, and engaged during a certain time period regardless of registering for exactly such a course, the gift of giving students the ability to engage with content at their own pace and at their own time is invaluable. Furthermore, various recording tools allow screen captures, voice overs, demonstrations, lectures with the ability to infuse questions throughout, and the ability to personalize content by incorporating a small window of the professor as they move throughout the lesson. Consider the fact that you are not only teaching students in first year courses, but you are also providing academic acculturation to college (Halonen & Dunn, 2018). Personal touches can go a long way. Preferably these videos should be under 6 minutes; the shorter the video the better (Guo, Kim, & Rubin, 2014).
Active learning is still beneficial and can happen in online environments. This is where we must get creative. The good news is that most video-conferencing tools have engagement capabilities. Instructors can encourage active learning by requiring responses using polling, asking for reactions with reaction tools, gaming, assigning discovery tasks to groups and sending them to breakout rooms to engage with one another, and by using the bountiful online websites that engage students in information exchanges.
Sharing is caring in online instruction. What most of us have discovered is that teaching online requires a lot of planning, pre-production, and execution. Often times, the more high impact practices (HIPs) utilized in the design, the more effort it takes to create it (Halonen & Dunn, 2018). This can be exhausting for faculty and part of the reason faculty feel they are working more now than in the past. Sharing courses, activities, ideas, problem sets, games, slide shows, and strategies are effective ways to address faculty fatigue.
The reality is that educators have always done what needed to be done and this pandemic is no different. We are surviving and thriving and many are even invigorated by a new challenge. The idea that we will simply return to our old course offerings when things return to “normal” is not guaranteed. Instead, it is more likely that this surge in online course delivery will continue. Either way, we will be ready because we always rise to the occasion.
Gallagher, S & J. Palmer. (2020, January 29). The Pandemic Pushed Universities Online. The Change Was Long Overdue. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2020/09/the-pandemic-pushed-universities-online-the-change-was-long-overdue
Gooblar, D. (2018, May 1). Your Students Learn by Doing, Not by Listening. Is it Ever Okay to Lecture? Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/your-students-learn-by-doing-not-by-listening/
Gooblar, D. (2019, January 15). Is it Ever Okay to Lecture? Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/is-it-ever-ok-to-lecture/
Guo, P. J., Kim, J., & Rubin, R. (2014). How video production affects student engagement: An empirical study of MOOC videos. In Proceedings of the first ACM conference on Learning @ scale conference: L@S ’14 (pp. 41–50). New York, NY: ACM.
Halonen, J. S., & Dunn, D. S. (2018, November 27). Does ‘High-Impact’ Teaching Cause High-Impact Fatigue? Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/does-high-impact-teaching-cause-high-impact-fatigue/
Olapiriyakul, K., & Scher, J.M. (2006). A guide to establishing hybrid learning courses: Employing information technology to create a new learning experience, and a case study. Internet and Higher Education, 9(4), 287-301. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.iheduc.2006.08.001
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