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Posts Tagged ‘asynchronous

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Earlier this week, I stayed back after a Zoom-based lesson so that my students — pre- and in-service teachers — could ask questions or discuss ideas. 

The Q&A session lasted almost as long as our synchronous meeting (1.5h). Near the end of that session, I floated one idea for redesigning the next run of lessons.

My current design divided each 3h class into two parts: A 1.5h asynchronous and scaffolded-independent learning session followed by a 1.5h synchronous meeting. I was toying with the idea of switching to a 1h asynchronous and 2h synchronous design. My rationale: To provide more synchronous time for peer teaching and discussion.

The learners who stayed behind surprised me. They said that they would not mind doing the asynchronous work and follow that up with a full 3h synchronous meeting. 

I was against going beyond the 3h-per-lesson design. Why?

The syllabus is a contract and each class is supposed to last 3h. I am not ignoring the fact that there is much preparation and follow-up for each class for both my learners and me. But if I take liberties to extend class time, be it asynchronous preparation, synchronous interaction, or both, where does it end?

Keeping to agreed upon class durations is a discipline. It might have developed in conventional teaching, but it should also extend online particularly for synchronous sessions.

Extending lesson times beyond what is agreed upon upsets the work-life balance for pre- and in-service teachers. It establishes a wrong habit and expectation, i.e., teachers should just put their heads down and bear with it. This is like how teachers already sacrifice weekends to grade work and plan lessons.

I am also a firm believer that work expands to fit the time given. Within reasonable conditions, I can facilitate the learning of, say, three key practices, within either 1h or 3h. If I can do this in 1h, why do it in 3h?

Finally, I wish to model better expectations and lesson designs. One expectation is that learners need to be more independent and not rely on spoon-feeding or face time. This is why I set tasks to be attempted asynchronously. These tasks are designed to help learners identify knowledge gaps so they can fill them in when we meet synchronously. They must learn to invest in more independent study while managing their time-on-task.

My overall lesson design is particularly relevant to adult learners. This is even more important if the learners are teachers because teachers tend to teach the way they are taught. If they are not exposed to alternative ways of teaching, they will rely on uncritical or outdated approaches. I need to model other viable, relevant, and effective strategies.

The subject of my reflection today are reactions to the tweet below.

Yes, I agree with the sentiment and I do the same. There are many ways to teach and learn online and asynchronous forms are poorly understood and undervalued.

No, most schools and institutes of education cannot seem to shake off the cowl of synchronous instruction. There is only one lens and yardstick for what seems to matter.

This simultaneously truthful and exasperated tweet exposed a serious gap in the expectations of progressive educators and students schooled in teacher talk:

It is the ability of an educator to design for asynchronous work and the student’s desire to work independently.

There is another gap: What exactly constitutes the design of asynchronous work? Doing this requires knowledge and skills on scaffolding, personalising, cooperating, critiquing, and evaluating.

Each of those topics could be two or three weeks worth of content in a semester-long crash course on redesigning for blended learning. Better still, each of those topics could be semester-long courses for a higher diploma on the designs of blended and online learning.

Never heard of such a diploma? Well, that’s another gap that needs filling. I would bet that most teachers and educators are not pushed to pursue such a qualification even though it exists.

At best, they are left to their own designs and pick these up these skills by trial and error. Maybe they attend rushed and mandatory “professional development” that does little to level them up.

At worst, they do not care to learn something new because they want things to return to normal. But things will not return to normal. And we will still be left with these gaps.

The comic and video below is funny because they are true to teachers. In those truths come hidden lessons if we bother to look.

Video source

No, I am not talking about learning how to mute everyone in Zoom or how to improvise camera stands for sharing written work.

The comic and video capture attempts to replicate classroom practices. When pushed online, we call these synchronous teaching and learning activities. Such activities are the focus of the comic and video because that is what most people seem to think teaching looks like online. This is only half the picture.

The hidden lesson is about designing for asynchronous and more inclusive learning. The design and facilitation of such learning are not obvious or glamorous. It is neither easy nor interesting to capture the process of combining educational psychology, content knowledge, pedagogical savvy, technical skills, learner empathy, and evaluation principles.

The design of asynchronous learning is about teaching that ensures learning without the constant and immediate presence of the teacher. This is NOT about taking the teacher out from the teaching-learning equation. It is about a shift in focus and effort — understanding the processes of learning and meeting the needs of learners asynchronously.

Inclusive education, be it online or offline, is about including the quieter learners so that they express themselves (there are other types of disadvantaged learners, but this group is easily overlooked). Reticent students are already reluctant to speak up in class. Instead of replicating such conditions online, we might design and facilitate experiences that focus on deeper, nuanced, or reflective thinking.

Is designing for asynchronous and more inclusive learning more difficult? Definitely. This is why teachers and educators who only know how to teach in classrooms, labs, and studios need new mind and skill sets if emergency remote teaching is to actually become meaningful and powerful online learning.

The good news is that teachers do not have to start from scratch. They might be able to transfer some skills and practices (e.g., active listening and wait time) to the design of online experiences. However, the same skills might have to be tweaked or revised to account for the lack of immediate social cues and a shared physical environment. Using the examples, active listening might be replaced by anticipatory scaffolds from the teacher and active reflection for the learner; wait time might be translated to longer or negotiated deadlines.

The bad news is that teachers might not see the point of adopting new mindsets and learning new skills. If the lockdown now and possibly ones in the future are relatively short and transient, why should they change? They might consider this: The applications online of psychology, pedagogy, technology, and evaluation can make them better teachers overall. If that is not relevant and continuous professional development, I do not know what is.

My short answer is neither is better if nothing meaningful results.

Warning: If you read beyond this point, you might get angry. But if you know me, you know where I am coming from and where I am going with this.

I reflect, perhaps more deeply than some, after every Twitter chat I have. I ask myself what I learnt, how I contributed, and if the chat went well. Most of the time I walk away disappointed.

The chats I have participated in are either scheduled weekly ones or dispersed over a period of time.

Scheduled chats tend to happen among people living in similar time zones. These chats are like IMs of old in that they are synchronous and can sometimes be so fast that text scrolls off the screen faster than you can read it.

The distributed or dispersed chats are sometimes called slow chats because they cater to people living over multiple time zones. Typically a moderator asks questions and people respond over a period of time ranging from several hours to a few days.

What both types of chats can fall prey to are a lack of meaningful connections (with people or ideas), superficial conversations, and a lack of some sort of closure.

If mismanaged, preplanned chats can sometimes feel contrived. Better planned and executed, they might have the feel of a productive town hall meeting.

But like a town hall meeting, people can shout, speak without actually having conversations, or be lost in a crowd. You leave such a meeting asking yourself what just happened or if anything useful took place.

Sometimes the best conversations are the ones that are neither fast or slow. They are spontaneous and come from a place of honesty or concern.

For example, take the reflective quality of the discussions following an initial tweet about nurturing critical thinkers by @tjoosten.

If the full conversation does not appear above, click here.

There was a hook, clear conversations between people, and a resolution at the end. As an informed educator, you should be able to link each phase to one or more educational psychology principles or instructional strategies.

For example, the three phases above might be linked to activation of schema, social negotiation of meaning, and resolution of cognitive dissonance. In plain speak, they are so wow, so what/why/how, and so what is this to me.

To be fair, fast and slow chats can exhibit similar properties, but the sheer numbers of participants creates noise that often obscures these conversations. Twitter also does not make these conversations clearer by threading them because tweets are presented chronologically.

That is why tools like Storify are important for reorganizing the tweets so that they make conversational and logical sense. But very few facilitators of tweet chats have the bandwidth to post-process like this. Most opt to import all tweets as is and do not even reorganize them in forward chronology.

Doing this is like brainstorming an essay and submitting every idea without sequence or evaluation. Doing this is like taking a lot of photos or video clips during a trip and not leaving some of them out, not editing them, and not arranging them to tell a meaningful story.

Some might say that is the nature of tweeting and that I should get with the programme. I accept that tweeting means reading in reverse chronological order, summarizing very quickly, and writing out of sequence. But it is lazy and uncritical thinking to accept things as they are or to not process what happened.

What is worse is if teachers who tweet regularly and think this way then model such behaviour with students. If we expect precision, logical sequencing, or evidence of analysis in writing artefacts like essays, reports, or stories, then we should expect no less in how we process and post-process tweets.

I am probably going to lose some Twitter followers and/or receive some judgement for saying this. So be it.

What I care about is professional development and learning. Professional, not lackadaisical or devil-may-care. And meaningful learning which is often painful, difficult, and a result of cognitive dissonance.

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