Guide To Teaching and Learning

Asynchronous vs Synchronous Decisions


Synchronous: at the same time; in real time; often conducted via Zoom with instructor and students present remotely. Note that synchronous sessions are inequitable unless all students in the class are in (more or less) the same time zone and unless they all have good technical equipment and robust WiFi. (Zoom videos can be problematic for a number of reasons, but technical and not.) 

Asynchronous: at different times; independent learning; learning conducted outside of a scheduled ‘class time’. When content delivery is primarily asynchronous, it creates equity and is particularly valuable for English language learners; they can take their time reading and responding and view videos multiple times. Students can access the materials as they are able.  

Canvas is the repository for learning modules and where most learning materials are hosted. It can be used exclusively for asynchronous learning or can be supplemented with synchronous sessions of a variety of types: 

  • Full class meetings with instructor and students
  • Instructor sessions with small groups (especially if students are in widely differing time zones)
  • Small group work among students
  • One-on-one tutorials or ‘office hours’ with instructor and student

Faculty should confer with their program directors about whether they should be meeting their courses in real time during a regularly scheduled class time. 

If the course is not meeting (for the most part) in real time, faculty are encouraged to use Canvas as the primary means for content delivery, where students will access recorded videos of lectures and demonstrations, readings, assignments and discussion threads. 

In real time activities should focus on community building and helping students feel connected. So synchronous sessions that begin by building that community are most important, using icebreakers, asking what concerns them about online learning, what challenges they may face given their locality (e.g., are they in China and will that limit their ability to engage fully with the materials as they would if they were in New York?), etc., allowing breakout sessions with small groups and promoting group work in general will be effective.

To really dive into thinking about structuring synchronous vs asynchronous decision making, this highly detailed presentation was created by John Roach, Associate Professor of Fine Arts in Parsons for Parsons First Year faculty. 

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