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Synching up with Your Asynchronous Learners

Some students are reluctant to enroll in online courses, afraid they will miss some of the social aspects of the face-to-face classroom. For these students, it makes sense to incorporate online synchronous sessions to provide some of the benefits of the face-to-face class while maintaining most of the flexibility of an asynchronous online course.

Janice Wilson Butler, assistant professor of educational technology at the University of Texas at Brownsville, uses optional synchronous sessions in her online courses to meet the needs of these “hesitant” online learners. Anecdotal evidence suggests that these synchronous sessions help to engage students and improve online student retention.

Butler’s courses are mostly asynchronous, and she doesn’t require students to attend the synchronous sessions because not every student is available to meet synchronously. But the majority of students do attend the synchronous sessions, and these sessions are consistently among the highest rated elements of her courses.

In a typical live session, Butler will share information, ask discussion questions, have students work in private “rooms” within the system to discuss the issue and develop a solution, then come back into the main room and present their findings to their classmates. Sometimes she’ll have a guest presenter, such as a librarian who can demonstrate database searches and answer students’ questions.

Setting the agenda, explaining the benefits
Butler offers the following strategies for effectively utilizing synchronous sessions:

Butler has not formally studied the effects of using synchronous events in her online courses, but feedback from students and her observations indicate that they do have positive effects.

>Excerpted from Some Students Want Synchronous Learning, Online Classroom, September 2008.