Some online or blended courses include a mix of synchronous and asynchronous experiences, where students are expected to attend scheduled online meetings. These online meetings may be used to conduct class sessions, office hours, group work, or other instructional needs.
For example, some instructors choose to conduct online student hours (aka office hours – the virtual equivalent of coming to meet you in your office, but using an online meeting platform instead); some choose to conduct synchronous group question-and-answer sessions.
Regardless of what you choose to do, make it clear in your syllabus exactly how you will conduct these sessions and how students are to sign up. Make sure your syllabus clearly communicates the expectations (dates/times) for any synchronous online meetings. If you offer online or in-person student hours (aka office hours), indicate those details as well. All required online session dates/times should be included in OneStop registration information.
Online meetings may be or :
- In a synchronous session, you will conduct the session at a pre-specified date and time, using an online meeting tool.
- In an asynchronous session, students can ask questions on their own time and you can respond on your own time, using tools such as email or an online discussion board.
Below are options for how you could conduct online office hours or Q&A sessions for your courses. Choose the option that best meets your needs.
Synchronous Online Sessions
In a synchronous session, you will conduct the session at a pre-specified date and time, using an online meeting tool (see University-offered online videoconferencing options). One benefit of synchronous sessions is that all participants are online together at the same time, which may increase a feeling of presence, immediacy, and community in your online classroom. However, synchronous sessions require scheduling in advance. If synchronous online sessions are required, meeting dates should be included in OneStop registration information before students begin to register for the semester. Or, you should note the fact that synchronous sessions are part of the course requirements and then plan to be as inclusive as possible of student schedules, e.g., poll students for their availability and schedule sessions based on that data. Many students take online courses because of the flexibility and convenience, and we should alert them early if the course requires them to meet at a predetermined time.
Synchronous Online Meeting Tools
The University of Minnesota offers multiple online meeting and video conferencing tools which offer the ability to meet with one or more students at a time, in real-time. Note that some tools are not available for some members of the Health Sciences area without a requested exception, and some students might be blocked from using online meeting tools in their work environment (for example health sciences professionals in hospitals, clinics).
Scheduled vs. Ad hoc Sessions
You may decide to implement a sign-up sheet for online office hours using the integrated Canvas appointment scheduling tool, Google Calendar appointment slots, or an accessible, formatted table in a Canvas page with student edit access. Some instructors also simply provide a general hyperlink to their personal Zoom virtual room and have it open for a specified and regularly recurring amount of time. That way, students can enter the virtual room on a first-come, first-served basis, and you can change the settings so the room is blocked until you finish with one student. To meet with a group of students, you can simply leave the room open (rather than blocked). You will be notified when another student is waiting to speak with you.
Because students and teaching staff may be in different time zones, make sure to specify what time zone you are in, and provide instructions for how to use the online meeting tool that you will use.
Facilitating Synchronous Class Sessions
Before meeting online with your students, become comfortable facilitating a synchronous class session and troubleshoot potential technical issues. Consider scheduling a practice or low stakes initial session with students, the sole purpose of which is to work out the technical issues and ensure everyone is familiar with the tools prior to conducting sessions in which content is discussed. If possible, it may be helpful to designate an online meeting moderator (a colleague, a TA, or a student) who can monitor the online meeting space while you focus on facilitating the conversation.
For more information, see Teach Online Class Sessions with Zoom.
Asynchronous Online Sessions
In an asynchronous session, students can ask questions on their own time and you can respond on your own time, using tools such as email or an online discussion board. The benefits of flexibility, searchability and archivability are at the expense of immediacy and students being able to see and interact with you in real time. You might create a dedicated “Ask the instructor” discussion board, and in the directions indicate when you plan to respond (e.g., within 24 hours, Monday through Friday) to manage student expectations for response time.
Synchronous means that everyone is online at the same time.
Asynchronous means that people are interacting online but not all at the same time. Think of a discussion board where you post today and I answer tomorrow. That is an asynchronous online experience.