Synchronous vs Asynchronous Debate

On Sunday, March 22nd, I was joined by two brilliant ladies, Dr. Maha Bali and Dr. Peggy Semingson in a #HumanMOOC Google Hangout.  We discussed the affordances and limitations of technology specifically synchronous and asynchronous communications in online courses.

Dr. Semingson makes some good points about the personal attention that can be given to an online learner with synchronous communication tools. In the #HumanMOOC, we shared a video that explains that sometimes simply making a phone call can be the way to reach a learner in a student-centered learning environment.  Dr. Bali speaks to the need for learners to have time to reflect and gather their thoughts before responding and how valuable that is to someone who’s first language is not the language of the instruction.  Many other points are made in the video below.

What are your key takeaways?  Which do you prefer?

3 comments for “Synchronous vs Asynchronous Debate

  1. March 24, 2015 at 3:27 am

    I really wanted to go to this… but homework got in the way 🙁

    I think that sometimes the biggest problem is that we focus on preferences rather than what works best. There are definitely times when either way is about equal and we can then rely on our preferences, but other times that doesn’t work out as well. I have been in so many group projects over the past few years where people demand that we meet synchronously. We then spend three days emailing back and forth to find a date. Then we set a date 3-4 days in the future. Then we meet and 2 people out of the group spend 15 minutes talking through stuff that could have been summarized in email. And usually end with the agreement that someone is going to type up what we decided and email it out to everyone. Right from the beginning we could have sent out 3-4 well written emails each, gotten everyone in on the conversation (not just the dominant two) and finished in 2-3 days.

    Or it goes the other way when too many people are being argumentative in emails and we should have set a time to meet synchronously and hash it out.

    • wkilgore
      March 24, 2015 at 4:12 am

      Matt –
      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. You make a very good point that different groups need different tools/methods of communication. I was recently in a group like the one you described. I’m with you that some groups can simply communicate with text based messaging (or email) and that hashing it out is best done synchronously.

      Do you see a use for asynchronous video in this communication within a group? Would that provide greater clarity of message and flexibility with regard to time and place?

      Somewhere there is a committee that wishes my homework got in the way too 🙂

      • March 24, 2015 at 1:10 pm

        Asynchronous video – probably depends what you are comparing it to. There can be greater understanding of non-verbal communication clues than text communication, but also much less flexibility than text communication. But whether those are considered pros or cons would probably depend on personal preference or the parameters of the context they are used in.

        For instance, for me I have very few times that I can sit down and record video. I have to carve out time in advance to do Skype or whatever just due to the fact that we have a loud kiddo and I work in a collaborative work space. So getting that time where it is quiet enough for me to record anything takes time. And then I can’t really watch replies anywhere – if its loud or not appropriate place to wear headphones, I’ll have to wait. Text discussions I can usually read and respond any moment I have a free chance – if my background environment is too loud, that usually doesn’t matter.

        Then, of course, there are the people that take a lot of time to get ready to be recorded. I’m not one of those, but people that do like to spend a lot of time on that? It might cause them anxiety.

        And speaking of anxiety, there are also those that are not native speakers of the language that is being used in the class. I am an adjunct at UT Brownsville and we have one project where students record a voice over screen capture to train on a software solution. A student with an obviously feminine name and profile pic turned in a video with an obvious male voice narrating. So I had to ask about why that happened – which was difficult, because if this was a person that is transgendered then I didn’t want to make it seem like I was bullying them for that. But I also needed to make sure that they had not just found a video online and stolen it (which does happen occasionally). It turns out she felt her spoken English was not good enough for the video and she had her adult son record her script. No problem there – but a long story to show that non-native language speakers could find video assignments a bit daunting.

        BUT – writing a paper is very daunting, time consuming, and requires us to carve out a lot of quiet time to finish… and we still assign those when we think it is appropriate. So asynchronous video is not something to be avoided – we just need to make sure that we are using it when the assignment needs it.

        Certain assignments, like introductions and visually rich assignments, can benefit from video – with those I am a fan of posting the video and then allowing text discussion afterwards. But we have to keep in mind accessibility issues and search issues. Video takes a lot of time to be made accessible (and we can’t keep ignoring that as feild). And if you want to find where the speaker said something, there is no Alt-F to quickly search for it (unless you are using captions in the EdX platform – they have one of the best video tools I have ever used).

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