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Synchronous vs. asynchronous teaching: How to adjust methods for online education?

In relation to the form of its teaching, each subject has its specifics. Czech, Mathematics, Biology, History, English, Music… in each of these (and many more) lessons, the teacher needs to use a different teaching method to engage pupils and to effectively convey the necessary knowledge. However, the situation rapidly changed due to the quarantine and the need to transfer education into the online environment. What is the difference between synchronous (contact) and asynchronous (distance) teaching? And which tools can teachers use to transform the education process in the best way possible?

Even though it might not seem like it at a first glance, each teacher would confirm that teaching “through a webcam” radically changes the requirements placed on teachers and pupils. During a typical class, a “synchronous” teaching takes place – everyone is in the same room at the same time, working on the same task at the same time, going over a certain subject matter as a group in a certain period of time, and the teacher supervises the pupils the whole time. The advantage therefore lies in a united approach and a direct and fast interaction between the pupils and the teacher.

On the other hand, the current online (asynchronous) model of teaching allows every pupil to study the subject matter whenever they want and to the degree they want, and the teachers can no longer supervise the pupils the same way as if they were sitting in a classroom. The teaching process itself is only partially synchronised, since the teacher only has control over it during live online lectures or through assignment deadlines and online tests.

Frequently asked questions by teachers: What are the issues and challenges of asynchronous teaching?

  • Do all materials, documents and others sources have to be available immediately, “one click away”? There is countless high-quality and verified materials on the internet, from educational videos to online textbooks. It is definitely not necessary to copy pages of physical textbooks and send them to pupils.
  • How do I make sure that pupils have understood the subject matter and we can move on? Online platforms offer many possibilities and tools to test knowledge. Unlike at school, however, the tests need to be more frequent and smaller in scale.
  • Is there a way I can make a pupil participate in online lessons? There is no legal way; however, there are many ways to make pupils attend online lessons, from motivating them through their classmates to calling their parents.
  • How do I find out if pupils are working together or copying from one another when doing homework? The tendency to copy and work together is smaller with simple, short assignments. Another way is to make cooperation part of the task – do not prepare assignments for individuals but for groups. Pupils will therefore have to cooperate with one another to deliver the assignment.
  • What should I do if students cannot access the materials or have no access to the internet? There are many companies and NGOs that can lend or donate the necessary equipment. Mobile operators also provide free data plans during the crisis.

How to set up online lessons to make them as effective and coordinated as lessons at schools? The answer is the right approach of teachers and the right online teaching method. Pupils and teachers play an important role, but so do parents who provide background for the pupils, or IT administrators who are in charge of the technicalities of the lessons. Technical-wise, functionality as well as consistency of platforms and tools are very important. But so is user friendliness – tools with limited functionality are just as unsuitable as tools with extensive settings and possibilities of interaction, if some users are not able to use them to the fullest and without problems as a result of their complexity.

New routines for pupils and teachers

It is clear that online education will be the everyday reality for most pupils at least until the end of the current school year. Schools should therefore see the current situation as a challenge and prepare a stable distance learning system, which they will be able to use in the upcoming school years as well, even if only as an addition to the classic forms of teaching. And what should be the first step? Setting routines! These routines include:

  1. Stable timetable
    A clearly defined and stable timetable and regularity of lessons are requisites for a greater effectiveness and organisation of the lessons.
  2. Predictable results
    Comprehensible and high-quality system of grading and evaluation, clear homework assignments and unified materials will contribute to a better management of the teaching and its results.
  3. Informal activities (e.g. “pupil-teacher talks”)
    The relationship between the teacher and the pupil is one of the most important aspects of online education.
  4. Meetings and debates in a “virtual staffroom”
    Even teachers need their own routines. Keeping in touch with other colleagues through common online calls will help them keep track of the latest developments at school and regarding the pupils.

What is also important is the feedback from the pupils and their parents, as it helps the teachers to improve their lessons and the schools to ensure their smooth running. Teachers should ask pupils if they understand the provided materials and if the homework assignments are clear. They should also be in touch with the parents and ask them how busy they are, if they have all the necessary technology and hardware, if they know how to use the learning tools, and if they consider the lessons meaningful and beneficial.

Stay tuned. We are preparing more articles on this topic.

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