6 ways to use live sessions in asynchronous classes

Today’s Zoom crash, on the first day for many colleges and public schools (but certainly not the first day of all–we have weeks ahead of us where daily many more people will be trying to learn online), is a reminder that online teaching requires frustration tolerance for technology, which will always fail sometimes.

This becomes harder when we are highly invested in the tech. And it can be hard to resist that investment given the allure of webconferencing. Some schools mandate live, synchronous, video-mediated teaching, despite the considerable ways video conferences contribute to gender, class, and family-status based inequity in the classroom.–and among teachers  (Being “camera ready” takes a lot more work for women than for men, and this is a theft of time from both women professors and students.) And, as demanding as excellent synchronous online teaching is, it still typically requires less work from the teacher than does excellent asynchronous teaching.  At a time when our lives are busier than ever, we don’t need to add more work to our day.

And yet among experienced online teachers, asynchronous work is the standard practice, for many reasons, but the chief ones are privacy, accessibility, and equity. I find these compelling enough to teach only asynchronously (a choice I know that not all educators have, and I’m sorry.)

But “asynchronous” doesn’t mean “not interactive.” In fact, it doesn’t even mean that you never see your students! It just means that you don’t require live interaction at any given moment. You can still engage in live interaction (including video interaction) with students–you just do it on their schedule.

Here are 6 ways to create live, interactive engagement in your asynchronous course.

  1. Schedule individual or small group appointments. Some of my colleagues webconference with students weekly or biweekly, but even a single conference makes a connection with a student. It might be a 10 minute check-in to track progress in the course or a meeting to review a draft of the student’s work. It’s live, it’s synchronous–and students pick the time.
  2. Create small group assignments that require students to interact with each other live. Again, they set the time.
  3. Assign everyone to lead a study session (or two or three). This works especially well in a large class. Allow everyone to pick a week in the course when they will lead an optional study session for their peers. In a class of 60, this means 3-4 study sessions being offered each week. They have to set the time, create the video link, and post the information to a discussion board, then be ready to lead the session. You can lead a few at the start of the year to model the process, if you like, but the real point is to encourage students to answer each others questions and share resources. Don’t pop in to help them; allow it to be a student-only space. Grade as done/not done.
  4. Require students to workshop their papers, posters, or presentations live with their peers. You can either set times and allow students to select which time works best for them or put students in small groups and let them figure out a common time.
  5. Host an AMA (Ask Me Anything) live chat once a week. This has the benefit of not requiring cameras, and you can easily post the chat to your LMS after it is over. Invite students who can’t attend to submit questions in advance.
  6. Make your office hours something to sing about–and host at least one session each week outside of 9-5 hours. If you have a great conversation with a student in office hours, ask if you can share what you discussed with the class (identifying information removed), or encourage them to develop the ideas into something they share with their classmates. Find your online office vibe and work with it. Maybe you do random drawings for a prize each week for students who come. Maybe you invite everyone to show up next session with their pet. Maybe you promise to start the office hour by reciting your favorite poem from memory or teaching them to make coffee in a French press or whatever is important to you and to them.

Share your own ideas for live interaction on asynchronous classes, please! I know what I’ve shared here won’t work in every class, and I’d love to hear what you are doing in yours!

Lady in boudoir before a mirror"-Luma von Flesch Brunningen (1856 ...

Above, Lady in Boudoir Before a Mirror (1856) by Luma Flesch-Brunningen, shows a beautiful woman standing in front of a mirror, kissing her reflectionEventually, no matter who fascinating and beautiful we may be, we get tired of talking to ourselves. How do we bring live interaction to our asynchronous classes while maintaining the benefits if asynchronicity? 

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3 thoughts on “6 ways to use live sessions in asynchronous classes

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  1. Hello,

    I had not thought abt the AMA sessions. (OK, I had not heard of AMA). What platform do you do it on? Canvas has a chat function, would that be worth a whirl? :>


      1. Here’s my idea for synchronous—for the course I am teaching now, a Civil Rights course, there are lots and lots of films or documentaries that are relevant. Periodic “watch parties” while live chatting abt Selma, say, for those who can come. Saving the chat for others to look at later, if they wish. Helpful for traditional-age students maybe as I like to fan girl at Maya Angelou giving a eulogy for James Baldwin during Price of the Ticket.

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