Due to recent events, an essential change for many teachers this fall involves translating learning from a face-to-face classroom to digital space. Whether you are teaching through a synchronous virtual classroom, setting up exciting asynchronous content experiences for students, or trying to find the perfect mix of the two, understanding the nature of synchronous and asynchronous learning environments can help you get the most out of your digital tools for learning. Our recent infographic can help you see ways in which you can transition your face-to-face synchronous teaching into Brightspace through both synchronous and asynchronous tools.
Challenges of Shifting to Online Learning
There are specific challenges that every teacher will need to anticipate and address before building online learning experiences for students. A face-to-face classroom relies on well-rehearsed protocols to help keep students confident and productive. Online learning environments are no different. By outlining protocols for turning in work, asking for help, or interacting with others, you can increase student confidence in how to function in their virtual classroom, allowing you to spend more time giving lessons and less time reiterating protocols.
Feedback is a critical component of all human interaction. In online courses, a lack of consistent social examples can hinder students’ ability to interpret and give meaningful feedback. As part of the process of outlining class protocols, time and attention should be paid to models that help students understand and structure their interactions with you and with others. Assigning roles in small-group work provides an easy way to divide student responsibilities while also giving students valuable experience in peer leadership, process ownership, and social interaction.
Face-to-face interactions are necessarily personal. In a physical classroom, students can read and project body language, signal engagement through eye contact, or address immediate confusion through one-on-one interactions with the teacher. To help reinforce more personalized and human interactions, try including an early activity for developing a student contract that emphasizes the need for students to be present, mindful, and safe in their interactions with others.
Asynchronous Learning Strategies
When it comes to online learning, most teachers immediately relate asynchronous learning tools to the online learning experience. In an asynchronous course, students participate when they have the time and attention to do so, dramatically expanding the traditional class period while also removing geographical restrictions for learning. By leveraging tools like discussion forums, strategic use of video, and small-group projects, teachers can increase interactivity even without live student contact.
When asked about their own issues with teaching online, most teachers express a profound concern that they will lose the value of the personal contact that underpins quality education in the classroom. In recognition of this concern, D2L dramatically expanded the role and impact of user-generated video to humanize asynchronous interactions. Using the Video Note™ tool in the Brightspace platform, teachers can leave video announcements that outline learning expectations for each day, video notes that dramatically personalize feedback, and video-based instructions that add personality to the teaching of assignments.
Asynchronous learning environments can minimize live contact between learners. Still, they can also provide students with valuable experience in developing time management skills through engagement with carefully scaffolded project-based learning experiences. When using the Video Assignments tool in Brightspace, teachers can create peer-evaluated, multimodal student projects. To help students manage their time, teachers can generate project milestones that they can mete out over the long term, providing students with guardrails for their project development.
While seemingly convenient, asynchronous learning tasks often fall short in deliberately providing students with active reflection opportunities. To increase participation in the reflective process, teachers should encourage students to leverage text, audio, and video feedback as part of the submission process. By adding context to their activity submissions, students can reflect on the process of learning and develop intellectual capital that they can carry into community reflections on learning in asynchronous discussions.
Synchronous Learning Strategies
Synchronous learning involves real-time interaction between individuals, usually via video or audio channels. Live, virtual learning is often viewed as a simple solution to the humanization of online education. Synchronous tools such as Virtual Classroom, Google Meet, and Zoom are usually amongst the first tools deployed when rapidly converting from face-to-face to online courses. If used correctly, synchronous learning experiences often result in better student attitudes and outcomes, so adherence to best practices with synchronous learning tools is critical to the success of digital learning programs.
A teacher can quickly identify students who are withdrawing from participation in a face-to-face classroom and employ instructional techniques to reconnect the student to the social learning experience. To avoid negative outcomes in synchronous virtual classrooms, teachers should use strategies like Go Rounds, which set an initial expectation for student participation. By giving students parameters for their expected responses (e.g., “Each student should respond to the prompt and the response should be between two to three minutes in length.”), each student has time to prepare a response, and all students are aware that participation is a part of the virtual interaction.
Once students are actively engaged in synchronous discussions, teachers may need to manage dominant speakers or inequality in response times. One of the easiest ways to help pace and moderate synchronous discussions is by providing a pause between a speaking request and a student response. By providing one to two minutes for thoughtful reflection, overly eager students can temper their reactions and shy students can have extra time to reflect on an idea before joining the conversation.
Regardless of how you mix and match asynchronous and synchronous strategies in your online classroom, focusing on student needs as part of your instructional design process can go a long way toward making teaching and learning experiences fun and engaging for everyone!
D2L has more than 20 years’ experience helping schools and districts shift to fully online or blended learning. We work closely with our customers all over North America to develop tailored plans in order to achieve success even through prolonged closures. This includes building school districts’ understanding of how-to best support equitable learning continuity with an online learning platform. The Brightspace platform provides scalable and personalized learning anytime and anywhere. We have clients who are using Brightspace in their learning continuity plans on a regular basis, and this experience has built our understanding of what is necessary to make learning outside the classroom work for long periods. To learn more about our work with K-12 schools, visit www.D2L.com/K-12.