Asynchronous Online Teaching

I recently had a conversation with a parent of a college student who was “disappointed” that her daughter *still* had some of her classes online this semester in spite of our institution’s decision to “come back to campus” this fall. First, I informed her that at our specific institution, even before the pandemic, it is expected that undergraduates take at least 30% of their classes online for the simple reason that we do not have enough classroom space to accommodate the number of students that attend this university. She was rather shocked at that, but it has been the case since before I arrived nearly four years ago. Second, I took exception to her remark that, on top of all that, some were “asynchronous” so is that even teaching/learning? Mainly because I have taught asynchronous online classes for three years now and all you have to do is look at my anonymous course evaluations to confirm that indeed teaching and learning occurs there. But I pointed out that many of the asynchronous classes (like mine) weren’t designed for pandemic teaching. They were designed for pre-pandemic teaching when students had to be able to “take” your class around a full-time job, other in-person classes, and various care-giving roles. And if parents/students only knew how many hours upon hours I’ve spent building, tweaking, rebuilding, retweaking this class over the years, they wouldn’t (I hope) be in such a hurry for me to “convert” it to a synchronous version. Yes, this version of this class won’t have any “O Captain, My Captain” moments, but it does teach them incredibly valuable skills that they use for academic and professional purposes. Not all good learning has to look like a 90s drama.

It just so happens that I also had a current student contact me saying they wished this asynchronous class was more like a previous class they had with me that was more interactive. I explained the same to this student as I did to the parent about the design of the class. I didn’t add that given my teaching load (4:4:2), having half asynchronous courses actually *helps* me be more engaged and present in my face-to-face classes. I’m able to do more in my synchronous classes because I’m not having to multiply the effort by four. Something universities would do well to keep in mind whenever they want faculty to hop on some new initiative or another. My kingdom for a course release when teaching community-engaged classes.

This post is rather ranty, I’m afraid, but I thought articulating the “why” of an asynchronous course might be helpful for a variety of folks in and around higher education. To be clear, I love my asynchronous classes. I send pictures of my cat each Monday. I spend a lot of time (more than I would in face-to-face classes) on their writing – basically having draft-feedback-draft conversations with each of them for 15 weeks. It feels even more intimate to me than some synchronous classes I’ve taught. And my major point is: these classes weren’t designed with the ideal college student in mind. They were designed for the increasingly-average student who works at least one full time job while juggling other classes and various familial obligations. It’s not the teacher version of autopilot.

How are you all doing? Do you teach asynchronous classes? Leave a comment below. I promise my bark is worse than my bite.

Stay tuned for more posts this year about teaching, research, and academia. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @litambitions and Instagram: @ecacademic (where I really nerd out about planning). You can also follow this blog (see the email subscribe button on the home page).

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