Many of you are familiar with some of the asynchronous tools commonly used in Blackboard. These tools allow "anytime, anywhere" access for communication and interaction. Students are not dependent upon a rigid schedule for interaction with the course materials, other students, and the instructor. On the other hand, synchronous tools are "same time, anywhere" tools. All participants agree to meet at a specific time to use these tools. We are observing more and more F2F courses that include strong online components and some use of synchronous tools. We have seen very successful uses of synchronous tools for tutoring and real time discussions in F2F and online classes. We are also seeing more fully online and F2F courses adding optional synchronous sessions. We believe that the "course of the future" will include both synchronous and asynchronous components. Used in tandem, each tool may help students interact in particular ways.
Asynchronous tools can address conversations, discussions, debates, and presentations. However, these tools do not replace two key ingredients - spontaneity and immediacy. It is more difficult to be spontaneous in the asynchronous world. If you use asynchronous tools, it is difficult to be spontaneous when you have to key in your response, often several hours removed from the original post. Instructor immediacy is the perceived social distance between the instructor and the student. Writing style, responsiveness to students, photographs, sharing about yourself, and a friendly tone help establish immediacy in the asynchronous course. In the asynchronous world, responses may be too removed from the original question for full benefit for some topics or learning activities. This is where you might consider adding synchronous tools on a limited basis for your course.
We also want you to realize that a virtual lecture, even using the most sophisticated synchronous tools, has limited usefulness due to several limitations. Although it may appear to be the same lecture as one delivered face-to-face, the lack of proximity, physical interaction, and immediate feedback opportunities may lessen the impact. The lack of visual cues further complicate successful use of a single delivery style for synchronous tools. Synchronous tools also require scheduling and agreement to meet at a specific time and in a specific location.
Even with these limitations, synchronous tools are the most viable option at present to improve immediacy and spontaneity. Like most things in life, we recommend moderation. Creating a course that is exclusively asynchronous may limit the amount and type of student interaction. Creating a course that is exclusively synchronous reduces flexibility and control of the student over their learning.
page last updated 8/26/2014 10:50 AM