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Best Practices for Asynchronous Lectures

Asynchronous lectures allow students to view the course content, participate in discussions, and complete course work at different times. This approach to teaching and learning can be advantageous to reaching students in different locations and with different backgrounds and resources. Unlike synchronous lectures, where students interact simultaneously, asynchronous lectures afford students and faculty more flexibility to engage with the material in meaningful ways. Here are some suggested practices for engaging students in asynchronous course content.

“Chunking” Course Content

The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) recommends “chunking” course content instead of replicating hour-long didactic lectures. The term “chunking” refers to breaking down a larger topic into more manageable sections of about 15 minutes or less in length. The human brain has a natural tendency to group information and seek patterns. Research shows that the practice of chunking can ease students’ cognitive load, which improves information processing, retention, and recall. This can apply to asynchronous recorded lecture content, readings, and course activities, among other areas of the course. Here are some tips for implementation:

  • Identify and craft learning objectives to guide the course content.

  • Organize course content into sections typically between 5 and 15 minutes in length.

  • Distinguish the essential content from the supporting content and begin with the essential.

  • Use informative titles for each section.

  • Include meaningful visual aids, concrete examples from the field, or a section of the video.

Encouraging Interaction

Faculty are often concerned that asynchronous online learning lacks interaction. However, building community within any classroom—in person or online—requires time and effort. There are many tools and technologies available to help facilitate discussion and collaboration asynchronously. Here are some suggestions for encouraging interaction:

  • Give students a variety of ways to engage with peers, particularly in courses with large enrollment. For example:

    • Prompts with options to submit text or multimedia discussion responses, such as posting an audio or video recording on the discussion board, sharing slides to VoiceThread, or creating a short Sway presentation on their thoughts

    • A fishbowl discussion activity with a class debrief

    • Small group discussions with report-out summaries shared with the class

    • A wiki for students to share resources and thoughts with peers throughout the term

  • Low-stakes grading for asynchronous contributions can keep students accountable and also keep the workload of the faculty team manageable.

  • Incorporate peer assessments as an opportunity for students to work together asynchronously.

  • Throughout the term and following the term, reflect on successful and constructive activities and feedback to adjust your strategy to encourage more engagement in the future. In other words, if students are not interested in speaking up in whole-class discussions, perhaps they will be more likely to engage in smaller group discussions or pairs.

For more specific information on tools, visit the page Technology for Teaching, or contact your instructional designer for guidance.

Communicating with Students

Given the physical distance and lack of face-to-face social cues, communication with students in the asynchronous learning environment is particularly important. Clearly express your plans for the course, assessments, and expectations for students in anticipation of the term. Faculty should ensure the Syllabus page in CoursePlus is up to date and review lecture materials, Online Library items, and due dates. It is also a great idea to delegate course responsibilities to your teaching assistants (TAs), if applicable, using CTL’s Who Does What” checklist for faculty and TAs.

At the beginning of the term, please consider sending out a welcome message via the Course Email or Announcements tool in CoursePlus. If you send an email to everyone through CoursePlus, it will reach all students who are currently registered for the course. In this message, establish expectations for the first week of the course. Be sure to include information about any LiveTalks or assignments. It is also a good practice to give students time frames for faculty team responses to questions on discussion forums, emails, and feedback for assessments.

Throughout the term, providing a weekly announcement that includes a short summary of the previous week and information about upcoming lectures or course assessments can help foster instructor presence and encourage student interaction with asynchronous lectures.

Monitoring Student Activity

By monitoring student activity, faculty and TAs can identify students who may be struggling and intervene to support student success when necessary. Faculty and TAs can view student activity in CoursePlus. Faculty and TAs can access Student Activity Reports in the Administrative Tools section of the Faculty Tools page within the course site.

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