By MARTIN SEVCIK
Let me make this clear: Synchronous instruction, where teachers and students work simultaneously in an online space, has an obvious place in the online classroom. It allows for live discussion, enables teachers to help students in real-time and can mean the difference between an engaging and a boring class.
There are plenty of reasons that a teacher or school district would employ synchronous learning. This is the case with the current system at Carmel High School, where every student must attend each of their digital classrooms for three hours a week. Unfortunately, there are plenty of situations where synchronous instruction makes a class actively worse.
Consider a class based around lecturing. If a teacher’s lesson plan is to talk over a slideshow, there is no reason to spend class time doing so. Why not allow them to record the lecture once and distribute it to their students all at once, rather than give a live lecture up to four or five times?
Another concern is the fact that, in its current state, online schooling is an oft-unpredictable and chaotic process. There is nothing worse than sitting in a Zoom call, patiently waiting for your teacher to troubleshoot their most recent tech grievance. Perhaps they’re not quite sure how to show a YouTube video, or their microphone has muted itself and they don’t know why, or they might have even randomly disconnected because of poor internet connection. When tech problems arise, it makes students feel like their time is being wasted.
So what alternatives do teachers and administrators have? In-person classrooms have almost always been synchronous. Are there true alternatives to this mode of instruction?
I’m here to tell you that, yes, there is a better way: asynchronous instruction.
Asynchronous learning utilizes technology to its full advantage. Rather than force students to sit in video chats, teachers can pre-record instruction and send it to their students remotely. Synchronous class time, if needed at all, can be spent on meaningful interactions between students. It allows for teacher flexibility and the meaningful use of class time.
This all before we consider the tangible benefits of asynchronous learning. There is an incredible amount of flexibility offered to students when they’re given asynchronous instruction since they’re allowed to schedule their schoolwork around their other obligations. Suddenly students can maintain a job, attend college courses or otherwise pursue opportunities unavailable during a strict school schedule.
There’s also a philosophical argument to be made here: High school is, at least theoretically, designed to prepare students for their adult life. Skills like time management and self-reliance, while not part of a school’s explicit curriculum, are some of the tools necessary to succeed in any field. While a typical high school effectively plans a student’s life on their behalf, a set of online, asynchronous courses actually requires students to learn these skills themselves. It’s also worth noting that many colleges, including our local Monterey Peninsula College, offer fully asynchronous courses, meaning that students will experience the college-readiness that CHS loves to tout.
Simply put, asynchronous learning allows for flexibility on students’ behalf and reduces the amount of time wasted on everyone’s behalf in a synchronous environment. So rather than force students to sit in front of a computer for hours on end listening to lectures that could be recorded, give them the freedom to schedule their own life. Use synchronous instruction only when it is most beneficial to student learning, not as a catch-all solution for online education.