Synchronous vs. asynchronous content delivery in context of COVID-19

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars. (Thoreau).

Many educators are considering ways to deliver their courses in this unprecedented context of students being in their homes, away from the normal routines and location of the Academy.  We no longer have control of the schedule - the students are not a captive audience in front of us at the times that we normally expect.

What does this mean for our new context of online delivery?

I have heard many educators talk about synchronous delivery - 'it will offer some structure to the student learning experience,' some say.  'By delivering our content synchronously we will provide a valuable service to students who suddenly have lost their anchor points.'

I would like to encourage my educator colleagues to re-think their options.  I think we have a lot to learn from Thoreau.

Time, and even time disruption, is something that we are all experiencing right now.  Time is the anchor for our occupations - the ways we occupy ourselves.  We often complete our occupations in discrete increments of planned and organized temporal units.  At 7:45am the students might sit in a specified lecture hall and attend a class.  It is not surprising that instructors would seek to re-anchor the learning process within some structure of temporal organization, and to even believe that students want the same.

Maybe some do want that structure, but now they are in home or other environments that are familiar but unfamiliar.  Their parents may be home trying to access a virtual private network or understand how to use networking software for their work.  Their younger nieces and nephews may be in the home, displaced out of daycare or school, crying because they no longer have their normal structure or routines.  Perhaps the family is still trying to contact their Internet provider to see if they are eligible for having data caps lifted.  Maybe there is not enough toilet paper.  Multiply this complexity by 20, 50, or 100 students.

Suddenly, expecting so many pieces to fall into place for a synchronous delivery method might seem a little complicated.

We are all so interconnected - we would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars.

Take some time to watch the stream, sliding away, so much more complex than our impulses would have us normally consider.  There may be high value in considering asynchronous delivery and allowing students to access course content on their own new schedules.  Perhaps we can help our students and their families and each other to find some new balance points.  Some new harmony.

Some new connection and interconnection to a very unusual context, for now.


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