Asynch or swim
May 6, 2021 7:29 AM   Subscribe

What has worked best for you, over the past year, teaching asynchronous classes online?

As a teacher or professor, what do you do to feel connected to your class?

I am not asking primarily about real time Zoom meetings, though comments on that are welcome too. This is about asynchronous online teaching, where there won't be breakout rooms or discussions.

How did you make a large class (over 50 students, say) feel connected to you, to the course, to the material, etc.?
posted by nantucket to Education (11 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
My unsatisfying answer is that the only thing that genuinely seemed to help were lots and lots of office hours at a range of times and constant encouragement to use them. (I made a slide that says, "I'm here, but doing other things. Please make some noise to get my attention.") The actual amount of time spent talking to students wasn't much different from a normal class.

Group videos instead of a paper was mixed. It did lead to some students interacting with each other more than they might have otherwise. A lot of people chose to work alone.

I've heard great things about piazza. It was a complete waste of time when I tried it. I suspect the only way to make students use it is to require some number of interactions per week, which I really hesitate to do.

Looking forward to better answers.
posted by eotvos at 8:02 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]

I had some good luck with Perusall. Students left really thought-provoking comments on our reading. My only challenge was keeping up with responding! I think if I use it again I’ll set a few hours a week where I commit to doing the responses — with asynch it can be tempting to just put that off.

(I did not use the auto-grading feature on Perusall, but I did have “engagement” be part of students’ final grades. Perusall was one of the ways they could fulfill that requirement.)
posted by wyzewoman at 8:41 AM on May 6 [4 favorites]

Generous open office hours, online low stakes or formative questionnaires (google docs/classmarker/goformative) that I can use to incorporate their answers/worries/difficulties into content for recorded lectures and voice recordings for feedback on work rather than written recordings (using turnitin or notability).
posted by Cuke at 9:41 AM on May 6

Perusall. I tuned the autograding so it was just "submit n comments to get full credit on this assignment" (I teach math for physics, so I really really didn't trust the autograder to interpret what was a relevant comment -- the vast majority of students were writing pretty relevant comments so this wasn't an issue).
Perusall's especially nice for technical material because it has a good LaTex interpreter so I could write responses with lots of equations when needed -- and the students even picked up some elementary TeX so they could ask questions that way too.

It does help that we use an internal text for the course, so I could just upload the text for free into Perusall's system. I'm not sure how well it works with commercial books.

Also did open office hours, as well as used Gradescope for giving comments on graded work-- both of those worked really well for the highly engaged students, but less well for the less engaged.
posted by nat at 11:21 AM on May 6

I made one of the weekly reading journals an audio journal. This was super fun, and several students said that they really enjoyed the format. I had required a minimum of 3 minutes and the vast majority of students went over (6 to 8 minutes was the most common length, a few super chatty students went up to 20 minutes, and one student looped in their younger sibling to make it a "podcast convo"). I made specific individual comments (sometimes just mentioning something the student had said, sometimes giving a follow-up suggestion). The topic was housing insecurity and I had assigned an episode of the We the Unhoused podcast as one of the week's required materials, so students had already had been primed for a more conversational style. If I had been really on top of things, I might have tried doing audio comments instead of written comments.
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:30 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]

You might ask this over at
It's an ok sub. A little "bitter teacher's lounge" at times.

Here is one thing that I've started doing: every single announcement, or anything I want them to read, is stuck inside its own discrete, graded discussion forum. We use Canvas, and everything that is graded shows up for the students in a little task list, which is their primary means of navigating their many competing courses. They almost never go to the module view, which provides an overview of the course. In addition, our campus uses Microsoft Teams, so I gave them points for chatting with me and had them summarize our exchanges. I wish I had done more of that.

I'm sure there are downsides to this approach, and they will undoubtedly become apparent over time. It's really the opposite of the Alfie Kohn ungrading thing
posted by mecran01 at 11:56 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]

I was only 100% asynch last spring, and hybrid this year but:

+1 to Perusall - soooo much better than discussion boards, for me and for the students. I also didn't entirely trust the autograder but used it as a rough guide and generally rounded up (these were all low-stakes assignments anyway).

Making deadlines for everything. I found that students mostly keep track of what they need to do not from the syllabus schedule, but from the LMS calendar (Canvas). If it wasn't somehow on the calendar, they'd likely not do it.

I know some people really enjoyed assigning their students to do vlogs as a way of getting to know them - I never really figured out how to incorporate this myself though.
posted by coffeecat at 2:05 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]

This was an usual context of mostly professional students, but I have had a pretty good experience this past semester. Our synchronous component was only once a week. We had a video of either the speaker for the week or on the topic for the week for the students to review, as well as a couple of readings on the theme including the textbook chapter. The students were expected and graded on posting some discussion questions or points on the day before class. During the synchronous sessions, the first 30 minutes or so would be the lecture type presentation, followed by Q&A with selected questions from the discussion board as well as items from the chat with everyone encouraged to voice their questions. The discussion could go off the rails sometimes, but not an especially harmful way. The synchronous sessions would also be broken up into small groups for discussion of a topic related to the presentation. We did not use specific question assignments for each group, although I have also seen that work out reasonably well. Again, these are professionals doing continuing education, so they are all pretty committed to getting some thing out of the class. We also did student presentations about the larger project/paper that they were ultimately writing as their final assignment, although it was pretty difficult for everyone to give detailed commentary having only seeing each project briefly.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 3:12 PM on May 6

I have never taught solely online other than in the second half of the semester in 2020 and at that point my students all knew me already. However, I have now taught for a year in a hybrid format and dealt with lots of student absences so perhaps my experience is still helpful?

I recorded a get-to-know-your-professor video with VidGrid and put that in the intro course doc section. I also recorded a lot of video lectures and demos, typically one to two per week and usually somewhere in the 30min-1hr length each, and those helped a lot. If I'm just talking, I full-screen my face; if I'm sharing my screen, I still keep a me thumbnail in the bottom. I really like VidGrid, and though the recordings are an investment, they are really paying off as I can reuse them again and again.

I also used the LMS, in my case Moodle, a lot more in general. I created detailed briefs for all projects - I had done this in the past for some classes, but others like Painting I when fully in-person hadn't required that support so I had to make a bunch of new ones. I type personalized feedback into the grade comment section and as we get into the semester I can reference trends I'm seeing. That might be hard with class sizes as large as you're teaching, though.
posted by vegartanipla at 8:45 PM on May 6

Re the "connected to you" part but not really to the course or to the material, for about a month I made very frequent, almost daily super casual very short videos and popped them on YouTube unlisted, then sent them out via the Announcements on Moodle. This was for a first-year class of students who had never even set foot on campus. So, once in a while if I was on campus I would just sit outside somewhere and chat at them a for a few minutes about my day, something that happened, just a "thanks for coming to Zoom today," etc. No prep. No editing. Low expectations. Students seemed to like it. Especially the bloopers. When we finally had an on campus orientation this year, those were the students who talked with me outdoors afterwards.
posted by Gotanda at 12:05 AM on May 7 [2 favorites]

I recorded my video lectures with the free, open source OBS Studio. It's very powerful, and also a little confusing, but once I got it set up I didn't have to think about it again. I'm hesitant to have students create new accounts for temporarily free web apps that look cool and start shaking you down after a few months.
posted by mecran01 at 9:03 PM on May 11

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