Navigate 1.1.1 – Delineating Between Synchronous and Asynchronous Content
“…when you look straight into that camera and the professor sees your face and all of the other students see your face, you are paying attention.”
– Ben Nelson of The Minerva Project during the Intelligence Squared Debate, “More Clicks, Fewer Bricks”
The second section of TOOL is Navigate, so I’ll move from describing digital citizenship to explaining the options available for that digital citizen can interact with others and share content. Online educators must be proficient at different learning environments and able to choose which resource and management system to use according to need. In addition, an attentiveness to upcoming trends and advances in technology will keep the educator in tune with the best practices to keep the class and its content current. Blog posts under Navigate will address some of the ways in which a teacher can deliver content to students online.
The Internet frees us from being bound by location, but we are still bound by time. Interactions and content on the Internet are either asynchronous or synchronous. Asynchronous content is independent of real-time exchange. Such content includes virtual libraries containing ebooks, documents, presentations, graphics, audio, and/or videos; Wikis; discussion boards; and e-Portfolios. An instructor might also communicate asynchronously through email, message boards, mailing lists, or texts. Asynchronous options allow students to study the material at their own pace, and for some of them this might allow for a deeper understanding of the subject. Such options also provide more flexibility to deadlines for work. The disadvantage here is that students are also free to procrastinate and might put themselves in a bind. Furthermore, some students might be less invested in these assignments since they don’t provide real-time feedback or build a sense of community.
To build a stronger digital community and to provide real-time feedback, an instructor should use synchronous content and communication that depends on real-time interaction. Examples include conversations facilitated by Skype or similar meeting platforms, instant messages, Twitter chats, virtual classrooms or worlds, and video conferencing. The advantage here is that students are more engaged with each other and the teacher, and their audience will hold them accountable for the content.
Regular meetings provide a sense of community that will help some students stay motivated throughout the class. Furthermore, students can get instant feedback, which might help them feel empowered and their opinions and ideas matter. There are some disadvantages to this form, despite its attempt to replicate the natural classroom feel. First, students who are shy might feel left out of the conversations happening around them, and if some students do not have access to a wide enough bandwidth, they may be left out entirely. Second, if the instructor gives synchronous content before students have an opportunity to review the information independently, the conversation may sway their own thinking. The experience might be only as rewarding as watching the movie before reading the book.
Effective online classes, just like cinderblock classrooms, will not themselves itself to one approach; but rather, a good combination will help every student feel included in the community, valuable to the instructor, and connected to the content.