Thinking about synchronous vs asynchronous conversations

Week 3 of the course, and thanks for the patience of my students and thanks to Aerius for my allergies. There I’ve counted my blessings. We have a small group from across the globe, students and a teacher with a busy work life, so scheduling synchronous class time is challenging. I asked the students in a poll on our Course Management System (Angel) if they wanted synchronous meeting times. Students are evenly split. So I decided to dip into the research to see what the evidence says (see Zotero Group – Open Educational Resources). My quick read is that it is the quality of the interaction that makes the difference, rather than the interaction happening at the same time. In fact there seems to be evidence that asynchronous discussions are of higher quality (makes sense, you have time to think about what you’re going to say). If we don’t all meet at the same time will we have the same sense of community? Maybe that will (at least in part) be up to the instructor to make sure our discussions are happening and we’re having a chance to comment on each other’s blogs. I think I definitely have room for improvement on that front!

The course content is proving very interesting and timely. Just last week our Vice Provost (Academic Affairs) sent a memo out to the University of Manitoba academic community about the imminent expiration Access Copyright license. Talk about a teachable moment!


About Karen Keiller

I am the University Librarian at Lakehead University.
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3 Responses to Thinking about synchronous vs asynchronous conversations

  1. scottx5 says:

    Hi Karen,

    Have to agree that quality interaction makes a difference. Adult students in this sort of learning environment very seldom interact in a negative way—they want to be “here” and want to learn, not show off. Also, as in this course, being instructors or employees of learning institutions the students seem to naturally gravitate to helping others learn.

    Synchronous would best duplicate the classroom experience of interaction while we’re simultaneously absorbing the material in real time. Of course this isn’t practical for busy people and may actually diminish learning by forcing one more distracted task into an already busy day? I sense that synchronous also adds a level of complexity with its scheduling and technical gear needs that may not net an offsetting return. (Most adult learners are still drawn from the pre-internet era and get tripped up by technology).

    Humans thrive on interaction and are very adept at making communication succeed. We leave marks everywhere we go—we can’t help it. Asynchronous is easy for us and, like you said, facilitates reflective learning and peer to peer support that’s so important in the newness of the things we are exploring together.

    Be interesting to make a list of affordances attached to student interaction. Two here:
    • Start with the obvious team building and group processing quality.
    • Social “comfort” encourages participation by enhancing the feeling of membership and a supportive environment where it’s safe to speak beyond your comfort zone and lower barriers that may be restricting understanding.

    I do have to say that speaking at our Blog sites and commenting at the Blogs of others feels distancing. Like being spies leaving “messages” in drop boxes all around cyber space, never in direct contact. If there’s no utility with Angel for class discussion it would still be nice to have a group place to meet. There’s something different about meeting in a group space compared to visiting at someone’s Blog.

    Thanks for bringing this up. I think we’ve passed the initial try out of e-learning and are ready to start fiddling, adjusting and having fun before the rule-makers come in and slap down protocols that suit management.

    To the class: anyone interested in setting up a discussion site?

  2. YES! all sorts of possibilities, how could we turn the class site into an OER???

    • scottx5 says:

      Don’t know how to set up a discussion site but can offer a few ideas.

      Last class I set up a ning site, put in an invitation list and set all members as “editors” so they could add and alter as they pleased. This worked for a few.

      Same thing can be done with one or the other of the blogs I set up to get passwords to the student blogs.

      Hesitation in using a blog or ning for class discussion: not “hosted” by the University creates worries about privacy and access after the course is over. These can be fixed by my promising to hold all comments for, say, 60 days after the course is over and then I’ll clear the site. Also, the discussion thread can be collected together and posted at the course site for downloading if people want to keep it. None of these classes stay accessable forever so the thread will eventually disappear anyway.

      Another option is to see about hosting at one of the many organizations we are all members of.

      I can explore things this weekend and have something to you on Monday if that’s OK.

      Thanks for your quick response.


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