Editorial—What’s better? Synchronous or Asynchronous classes

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“Study Area” by yum9me is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 CLASS AT HOME-You’ve likely had experience with synchronous and asynchronous classes by now. You’ve probably formed an opinion as we have.

North Wind Staff

You have probably had a variety of class formats in the last two semesters, and you have likely formed some preferences as to what you like in an online class, and what just doesn’t do it for you. There are many benefits and drawbacks to both synchronous online classes and asynchronous online classes, and among us the verdict is split as to which is better overall.

Synchronous classes include a portion of meeting with the class at regular intervals to learn together. Asynchronous courses do not meet as a group and are much more independent. 

Some of us are all about asynchronous learning. Doing your classes independently gets rid of the 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. class problem, those can be killers. College is about becoming independent in any case, some argue. Additionally, many lecture classes benefit by having an asynchronous option, because being able to do online assignments whenever we have time is quite nice, and when lectures are recorded it can be nice to be able to speed them up or slow them down when we take notes.

“The asynchronous method has educators frontload it with the curriculum and lesson planning, and then students move through their self-paced instruction. They won’t be exhausted by meetings and lectures and can dedicate their time to intrinsic processing of materials” according to TeachHub.

Asynchronous class organization allows for students to be able to do the work when they want, or when they have time. For example, one could frontload lectures to the beginning of the week and then do assignments throughout the rest of the week. However, if one is not very good at scheduling oneself and managing time, this may be a less than productive option. Even when students write down assignments and quizzes and tests, it is still super easy to forget when things are due, and checking EduCat 24/7 is exhausting.

Another consideration is that more and more, students are being swamped with extracurricular activities and working part time jobs (sometimes multiple) and the asynchronous option is great for those students who want to get the most out of their university experience while still being able to make money and attend activities. 

Given that, the lack of group meetings, and sometimes the lack of scheduled meetings with professors can have a negative affect. Some students like to have some form of required, extended communication between students and professors, just so professors can be aware of each student’s individual situation and how much they may have on their plate.

On the other hand, some of us prefer a combination of asynchronous and synchronous teaching. Maybe when scheduling out our next semester we looked for one or two classes which meet at the same time, and a few that are entirely asynchronous.

It can be really nice to have some synchronous component to a class – either a Zoom call, in-person class discussion or even a test that has to be taken within a certain time frame. Some of us appreciate these scheduled class times since they help us structure the rest of our days and we get that little bit of human interaction to keep us sane. Synchronous class times also help to build more of a sense of community with fellow students and with the professor. 

Some class types make asynchronous learning a very unlikely or unpleasant option. Learning some skills takes hands-on experience. For example, for art students the problem may become how to do studio and lab work without in-person professor guidance or peer critiques. In this case, sometimes a combination of asynchronous and synchronous learning per the student’s decision regarding their individual situation is one that works well. The most important thing to remember is keeping up direct communication with professors to coordinate. 

Staying flexible and providing options is a relief for students, and the most important thing during this pandemic is giving the chance for students to learn effectively despite the necessity of less in person contact. 

Now, some students prefer to meet regularly, and therefore gravitate towards synchronous classes. 

“This online instructional method delivers the chance for students to listen to lectures, view educational visual aids, and interact with the educator across major geographical distances,” according to TeachHub.

For many students, having a course that does not officially meet in any way does not feel like a productive option. The removal of any live interaction between classmates and teachers may feel like the future of education in some ways, but for many it is not the most productive form of learning. 

For some students, the main concern with asynchronous classes would be getting behind in coursework and not being able to catch up. For some who have taken fully online courses, we’ve discovered it is often easy to miss assignments.

For others, the lack of interaction with classmates can become a problem. In a study on asynchronous learning conducted by Rupert Wagerif of the University of Cambridge, one online learner shared her experience. 

“It is a cold medium. Unlike face to face communication you get no instant feedback. You don’t know how people responded to your comments; they just go out into silence. This feels isolating and unnerving. It is not warm and supportive,” the student said in a response quoted in the study.

Overall, the method of online learning, whether synchronous or asynchronous, seems like a matter of preference largely depending on personality and level of other commitments. We hope that, should COVID-19 necessitate a purely online semester this winter, NMU will provide a variety of online course types to cater to different needs.

Editor’s Note: The North Wind is committed to offering a free and open public forum of ideas, publishing a wide range of viewpoints to accurately represent the NMU student body. This is an editorial, written by the North Wind Editorial Board in its entirety. It reflects the majority views of the individuals who make up the editorial staff of the North Wind. It is the policy of the Editorial Board not to endorse candidates for any political office, in order to avoid aligning this public forum with particular political organizations.