Out of Sync — Managing the Challenges of Asynchronous Classes

By Tim Tibbitts

I’ve been tutoring for nearly two decades, and never before have I worked with more college students than I am this year. Part of the reason, of course, is once COVID pushed us to get up to speed on Zoom, we realized how easy it really is to work with people who are far away. But a large part of why more college students are turning to The Whole Kid for support is the challenges they are facing with learning remotely, and especially in their asynchronous classes. Asynchronous classes, those classes in which you never actually meet with your professor or with anyone else in the class, can offer some advantages, including flexibility, but they can also intensify feelings of disconnection and isolation. Here are some strategies to manage your asynchronous courses. If you find these tips helpful, pass them onto a friend (or 30 friends!). Good luck, Tim


Social Challenges

I’ll get to the academic issues in a moment, but let’s talk first about overcoming the sense of isolation that comes with distance learning.

1. Use the discussion board to connect.

From your first post of the semester (often, teachers will ask students in a first post simply to introduce themselves), make your post an opportunity for people to connect with you. Share something about yourself that you’d actually like people to know about you, something that by its nature will invite like-minded people to reach out. Also, consider posting your contact info in your posts.


I took an online class last fall at a local community college in which the professor required participation in the discussion board. I found the lack of actual engagement on the board to be depressing, but I also included my cell number with my signature in every post, and by the halfway point in the semester, I’d found myself a study partner.


2. Make a point of really paying attention to what others share.

Remember, just as in person, connecting with others is at least as much about listening as it is about talking. Use the discussion board to share your thoughts, but also to show that you’re paying attention to what others had to say. If you make a habit of referencing the posts of others (e.g., “As Malik said so well in Week 3, …”) people will eventually notice that you’re actually listening.


3. Reach out individually to classmates.

I discovered just this week that you can email individual students via Blackboard. If a classmate’s posts give you the impression they’d be a good person to study with—or just to get to know better—send an email. Inviting classmates to study together can not only be helpful for the class, but can help to break through the isolation of remote learning. Check out our blog "Five Keys to A Successful Zoom Study Group" for tips on making your Zoom study groups effective.



Academic Challenges

1. Create a weekly schedule.

Make sure that all your classes have a place on your weekly schedule. Some asynchronous classes are placed on the schedule as if they met at a particular time each week, but most do not. Get the course on your weekly calendar of classes. Literally, choose a time when it fits in, based on your other classes, your work schedule, your workout schedule. Don’t let an asynchronous class be a ghost that haunts you all semester, pin it down and treat it like a real class.


2. Set deadlines for yourself.

Some asynchronous courses have specific deadlines throughout the quarter or semester, but in other cases, you will need to set a schedule of deadlines for yourself. Self-paced study can be wonderful, giving you tons of flexibility to do your work when it works for you, but if you’re not careful, it can become a nightmare. If you tend to procrastinate, getting around to assignments only at the very last possible minute (or sometimes even after that), imagine trying to do an entire semester’s worth of assignments in the last few days before the end of the semester. In most cases, this does not go well.


3. Review the syllabus more than once.

Read through the syllabus carefully—not just during syllabus week, but at least once a more few weeks into the semester, then again around mid-semester. You’d be amazed at how often something is lurking in there that you didn’t notice the first time.


One student I know discovered—in mid-October!—that he had 27 self-paced chapter quizzes due the week of Thanksgiving. Oops! No wonder the class had seemed so easy!


4. Use office hours to connect with your professors.

Finally, take advantage of office hours to connect with your professors, so that you aren’t just a name on their class list, nor they on yours. Some professors have a set Zoom link that you can use to drop in at certain times. Others will list office hours “by appointment”. Professors are required to make themselves available for a couple of hours to meet with students each week, but few students take advantage of this opportunity. Visiting with your professor during office hours can be a way to distinguish yourself, to get some extra help if needed, and even to network for future success.


When he is not tutoring or studying for his online classes, The Whole Kid’s Tim Tibbitts can be reached with questions or comments at tim@thewholekid.com.

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