What do we mean?
- Learning outcomes: statements that describe the knowledge and/or skills that students should acquire by the end of a class, assessment or programme. Learning outcomes should also describe the context in which skills/knowledge will be acquired, and the level to which students will be able to demonstrate their proficiency.
- Moodle forum: a discussion tool within Moodle courses where staff and students can hold conversations in the form of posted messages.
- Asynchronous: learning activities which are not taking place simultaneously in real time.
- Peer feedback: students assess each others' contribution to a learning activity.
Tips and Tools for Asynchronous Learning
What is Asynchronous Learning?
'Asynchronous learning' refers to forms of learning and teaching that place flexibly online and do not require learners and/or tutors to be online simultaneously. While asynchronous learning activities lack the immediacy and dynamism of synchronous learning, they provide learners with flexibility allowing them to work 'at their own pace'. If used well, they can also be harnessed to create community and foster engagement online. As such, good quality online learning programmes seek to find a balance between synchronous and asynchronous activities.
It's important to realise that the use of asynchronous activities need not require tutors to spend large amounts of time creating resources and learning objects. Rather, tutors should think of themselves as curators, whose role is to guide and direct students to content, and to help them to contextualise it. Such content may take the form of pre-recorded videos, audio, reading or other online resources, and might involve interaction with peers in whole class or small group contexts through collaborative tools (e.g. discussion forums).
Getting the approach to social elements right is key to engaging students online. You can get the ball rolling through ice breaker activities (perhaps ask students to introduce themselves, and tell everyone one interesting thing about themselves). Whatever learning objectives you want to achieve through a forum, be clear about why students should engage with it, and what they are expected to do. If the objectives are too vague or unclear, many students will shy away from posting. Bear in mind that international students in particular may not feel confident about appropriate discussion board etiquette. Allay these fears by providing a clear code of conduct (and modelling good ways to begin forum posts), or perhaps begin with an online activity where students discuss etiquette and collaboratively agree on a code of conduct that will be used for discussions on the unit. You can then pin the code of conduct to the top of the discussion board.
2. Be consistent with Forum responses and communication updates.
If students are going to invest their time and effort in online discussions, they need to feel that they are being listened to, and that their contributions are recognised. When this happens they will feel valued and are more inclined to stay engaged with discussions. To encourage engagement, respond regularly and consistently to discussions, and provide updates or new discussion topics at the appropriate moments. To ease some of the workload involved in monitoring discussions, consider using individual or group based peer-feedback activities.
3. Set clear expectations and learning outcomes
It's particularly important with online learning to make clear to learners upfront the desired learning outcomes and everything that is expected of them, (e.g. deadlines and assessments). So if their contributions to online discussions will be marked, make it clear to students what the marking criteria will be. Likewise, where contributions to group-based assessments will be assessed individually, make clear to students how the marks will be apportioned.
4. Foster an environment of discussion and interaction
In addition to an online 'news' forum where you can post regular course updates, and specific targeted discussion activities (either whole class, or small group based) you may wish to consider using a Q and A forum. This will allow any questions from students to be answered once, in one place, for the benefit of the cohort, easing the demands of personal emails. Additionally, you may find that online discussion works best in small group scenarios, particularly if the cohort is large, as students may not wish to feel that they are posting their opinions for a large number of peers to see. Consider using Moodle Groups to provide opportunities for small group interactions.
5. Provide a range of different resources
Online resources are an essential part of asynchronous learning activities, and while you may wish to create some of these yourself in the form of video presentations of key ideas etc, don't fall into the onerous trap of creating everything. It's not necessary. Instead direct students to relevant resources that already exist on the web (perhaps try the BoB service) and give them meaningful, (perhaps group based), activities to complete that are based on these resources. Remember - curate content, and contextualise it for learners.
6. Monitor and guide the online learning journey
Although asynchronous learning activities are designed with the intention of allowing students to work at their own pace, and at the times that suit them, the student learning journey still needs to be facilitated by your subject based expertise. You can do this by sparking discussion, moving-on any online discussions that have run their course, or strayed too far from key topics, and by ensuring that the design of asynchronous activities leads students to engage with core learning materials and their peers.
Tools for Asynchronous Learning
Most Moodle tools and activities can be used to support asynchronous learning activities. For example:
- Groups – Setting up Moodle Groups allows the tutor to sub-divide members of the student cohort into smaller groups, enabling various tools and activities to be used in small-group contexts.
- Assignment – Students can work online/offline on their assignments and receive marks/feedback from tutors
- Choice – Allows students to respond to a question, selecting from a number of set options.
- Database – Participants can create, maintain and search a bank of database record entries.
- Feedback – Create a custom survey for participants to fill in.
- Forum – Allows participants to have asynchronous discussions
- Glossary – Enables participants to create and maintain a list of definitions, like a dictionary of terms.
- Group Peer Review – the Group Peer Review activity allows students to rate one another anonymously, which is aggregated and used as an individual weighting.
- Lesson – The lesson module presents a series of HTML pages to the student who is usually asked to make some sort of choice underneath the content area. The choice will send them to a specific page in the Lesson. In a Lesson page's simplest form, the student can select a continue button at the bottom of the page, which will send them to the next page in the Lesson.
- Quiz – Allows tutor to design set quizzes which can be automatically marked, with feedback and correct answers shown (or not) as desired.
- Wiki – Allows collaborative creation, editing and sharing of web pages within the class.
- Workshop – Enables peer assessment to take place.
Mahara e-Portfolio – An e-portfolio is an online collection of reflections and digital artefacts (such as documents, images, blogs, resumés, multimedia, hyperlinks and contact information). Learners and staff can use an e-portfolio to demonstrate learning, skills and development and record achievements over time to a selected audience.
Re:View (Panopto) – is the University of Bath's video platform (also known as Panopto). It allows staff to record lectures and other activities. In addition to this, staff and students can pre-record content from their PCs and capture video from their mobile devices and tablets for upload to Re:View.