While the move to remote instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the work of educators and students alike, it’s also given many teachers an opportunity to think creatively about how they engage their students in productive learning.
In a new podcast, University of Washington College of Education faculty members Megan Kelley-Petersen, Sara Lopez and Miriam Packard and instructional designer Britta Ossim discuss how developing asynchronous learning experiences for students can be more than a lifeline when school buildings are closed — it can open more avenues for students to share their ideas and learn.
Megan Kelley-Petersen, director of the UW’s alternative certification program (U-ACT), said one of the advantages of asynchronous learning is its flexibility in enabling learners to engage with content on a timeline that makes sense for them.
“We can have opportunities to still really interact in powerful and productive ways with one another, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we have to do it where we're all talking together at the same time,” Kelley-Petersen said. “It might be an opportunity for some learners who really require and need more time to reflect on their thoughts. To put their ideas together in some way that gives them the confidence and safety and trust to be able to put their ideas out there publicly.”
Packard, coordinator of the UW’s online bachelor’s completion program in early care and education, noted that asynchronous learning can also support relationship building between teachers and their students, for example by enabling teachers to post short videos, text announcements or other materials in a virtual classroom that students can access anytime.
“If you're not spending all your time lecturing or running class sessions you can spend a lot more time giving individualized feedback or jumping into online discussion forums,” Packard said.
Ossim also noted that planning some asynchronous learning experiences can provide greater accessibility for those students lacking access to high-speed internet.
“Sometimes being able to watch a video and responding asynchronously is going to be a lot more forgiving, technically speaking, on a phone or a tablet,” Ossim said. “So there is this strand going through that it's an equity consideration as well.”
Another benefit of asynchronous learning is that instructors can give their students different ways to respond to an assignment. For example, some students may prefer to respond orally while others find a written response easier.
“Sometimes, no matter how much we try to ensure otherwise, there are more dominant voices than others in real-time interactions,” Packard said. “Infusing asynchronous, online learning can really help with that.”
Lopez, director of the UW’s graduate program in intercollegiate athletic leadership, said providing students with consistency in how they interact with content across a course is one of the keys to successful asynchronous learning. She’s also found success in breaking a course into small, more digestible chunks.
“I have an undergraduate class that's five credits and so I realized how that could just look imposing in terms of this list of things that were planned,” Lopez said. “One of the things that I did was create subgroups for the week and suggested to the students that they might think about tackling one of those at a time as a way for them to break up the work.”
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