Tips for asynchronous activities (even in a synchronous course!)

Planner and pens on table with laptop

Asynchronous activities can provide a great change of pace in a synchronous course, especially as the semester is drawing to a close and students and instructors alike are facing burnout. Well-planned asynchronous activities can replace a synchronous class session, allowing students to complete the work on their own time. This can allow for refreshing flexibility and also free up more time for students to think deeply about the material and for instructors to provide more helpful feedback. Here are some sample activities and suggestions as you consider how to incorporate more asynchronous content into your normally synchronous course.

Sample asynchronous activities (to replace a partial or entire synchronous session)

  • Record a video of yourself presenting course content and have the students watch and respond to it.
    • Pro tip: Keep these videos short. Aim for about 5-7 minutes in length. Anything longer than this tends to lose your audience. If you have more content than you can present in 5-7 minutes, create multiple shorter videos organized by topic.
  • Assign a reading and have the students discuss it through an online discussion board.
    • Provide specific instructions to students on the requirements for their comments and replies (length, number of comments, topics to focus on, etc.).
    • If you have been using a discussion board throughout the semester, try to stick with that same platform for asynchronous work.
    • Potential tools to consider for discussion are VoiceThread, Piazza, Collab Discussions, or FlipGrid.
  • Have students watch a video (or series of clips) and discuss them on the discussion board.
  • Give students an asynchronous day (or two) to work on their final project or paper for the course.
  • End a synchronous class session early and give students time to complete a writing response/discussion post, etc.

Strategies for successful asynchronous activities

  • Make sure to explain to your students WHY they are completing a particular assignment.
    • Ensure that the assignment’s purpose is connected to your course learning objectives. Students will better understand the context of the assignment if they know how it relates to the overall course and what they need to get out of it.
  • Be very clear and explicit in your expectations for the activities. Be upfront about time requirements, deadlines, assignment instructions, and any technological requirements.
    • Since you will not be present with your students while they complete the activities, it will save you and them a lot of hassle to provide detailed instructions at the outset.
  • Try to use technologies and assignment formats that you have already used earlier in the semester. This can help to eliminate technical challenges or confusion about requirements.
  • Focus on active learning. Structure your asynchronous activities to help the students engage deeply with the material.
    • For example, provide students with a series of questions they need to write about after watching a mini-lecture; create an interactive quiz at the end of a video clip; invite them to engage with others on a discussion board about a reading, etc.
  • Give relevant, productive feedback on the asynchronous assignments. This not only helps to maintain the instructor-student relationships even when you do not see each other in class, but also ensures that the student is performing well on their own.
  • Make asynchronous assignments graded to ensure accountability, but consider making certain types of assignments (such as discussion boards) low-stakes to reduce stress.

Further resources:

Asynchronous Strategies for Inclusive Teaching from Brown University
Asynchronous Teaching Tips from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Leave a Comment