This article will focus on how technical and pedagogical difficulties may be overcome, as management difficulties can be largely solved through the inclusion of students into an LMS (Learning Management System). But before we move on to practical tips, an analysis of what asynchronous and synchronous learning is, should be conducted
Synchronous learning requires the simultaneous participation of all students and the teacher in "real time". During it, they can exchange educational material, opinions and ideas. Simultaneous involvement can be achieved either by being in the same natural environment (class, etc.) or by being connected via a synchronous learning platform. Such are Zoom, Big Blue Button, Join.me, Blackboard, etc. each having its own unique characteristics and specifications.
On the other hand, asynchronous learning, does not require the simultaneous participation of students and teachers. Students do not need to be together in the same place or at the same time. Instead, they can choose their own personal time frame in which to connect to the asynchronous training platform. Asynchronous is more flexible than synchronous learning, although it does not have the warm atmosphere that a face-to-face communication brings. Such asynchronous training platforms, called LMS, are Moodle, Edmodo, CanvasLMS and others. Like synchronous learning platforms, they differ from each other in terms of characteristics, appearance and specifications.
Whether in synchronous or asynchronous teaching, there are undoubtedly a number of problems that may need to be addressed.
Some of the most common technical difficulties that a teacher may encounter in synchronous learning are the following:
Before the lesson: Microphone failure
To overcome this, ask students during the initial lesson to connect earlier than the scheduled class time and check the ability to transmit audio from the microphone of their device. For this purpose, students' microphones can be left open for a predetermined time. In case you spot voice problems try to solve them before starting the lesson by providing help where needed. More specifically, if the microphone does not work, explain to the student how one can change the selected voice input device from the computer. This step is preparatory and it should not be forgotten that you cannot give advice for an unlimited amount of time. The class has to start normally at the scheduled time without delay for those who do not succeed, respecting the majority who do not face difficulties. When the lesson is over do try to help those students who had issues.
Before the lesson: Providing advice
By asking students to connect earlier than the scheduled time, take advantage of this time to give them some additional tips on how to use online resources properly. More specifically, explain to them that the device with which they are connected to the synchronous learning platform must be close to their modem / router if they are connected with a wireless connection. Also, point out to students that they should not be browsing the Internet at the same time, unless you have asked them to do so because there is a serious risk of program failure if the user simultaneously switches from one application or one window to another. Besides, explain to them that in order for the lesson to operate flawlessly, no one else in their house should use online resources during the course as there may be a problem of instability due to reduced bandwidth speed.
During the lesson: timeframe
The course starts normally at the scheduled time and ends exactly at the time it was announced. There must be consistency and seriousness and the framework must be followed literally so that the lesson time does not skyrocket beyond its predetermined duration.
During the lesson: Student disconnections / absences.
Do not act as you would in a conventional classroom. The lesson continues normally regardless of whether someone enters slightly late. You do not need to interrupt the lesson to discuss why the student was temporarily disconnected or to ask for the reasons that one was late. What you need to keep in mind is that there should record of absent students, who should be informed about the missed class, through the LMS at a later stage.
During the lesson: Bandwidth problems
Many times, especially when the teacher’s screen is shared and the camera is active, low transmission speed happens, resulting in the video to shutter and the information not being transmitted smoothly. For these cases, make sure that no one is using Internet resources that require high bandwidth at your place. If you plan to present videos, It's also a good idea to have these videos saved locally on the computer without the need to load them during the lesson (for example YouTube videos).
During the lesson: Computer Operation Problems
When Bill Gates was presenting Microsoft Windows XP in 1995, all of a sudden everything went south and his computer crashed, causing his presentation to stop. Something similar is likely to happen to you. For this reason, it is a good idea to have the software of the synchronous learning platform installed on another device, such as a tablet or mobile phone, so that you can resort to this solution if necessary. Ideally, it would be good to have a second computer in case something happens to the one you are using.
The most important piece of advice a teacher should keep in mind before taking an online course is exactly what they need to know before entering a conventional classroom. This is none other than the requirement of adequate preparation for the upcoming lesson. But beyond that, there are some specific difficulties that can arise in distance learning.
Synchronous teaching: Initiating Discussions
Online classrooms, as mentioned earlier, operate differently from traditional classrooms. These classrooms undoubtedly do not share the warmth produced between students and teachers as traditional classrooms do.
To overcome this you should encourage participation, as you would in the classroom. There are several ways you can encourage participation.
- discussions before the beginning lesson in relation to the daily life of the students
- video presentation and discussion. Videos should not exceed 3 minutes so that the students' attention is not lost as most of you teach students who belong to GenZ which has an extremely limited attention span.
- If the asynchronous training platform you are using has implemented gamification mechanisms and a scoreboard, refer to it frequently. This will not only motivate the students but also strengthen their involvement with the LMS, leading to more constant logins.
- Do not forget to provide synchronous feedback on the material given asynchronously previously.
- Make sure you make connect one lesson to another. Where one lesson ends, the other must begin. Knowledge consistency provides a better flow for the next lesson.
Synchronous learning: teaching material
Check if the pages you give to your students during an online course work seamlessly on mobile devices. Given that more than half of your students will enter your classroom through them, there should be a careful examination that they can be properly accessible by mobile devices.
Make sure you check the material thoroughly before giving it to students. Remember that the desired scenario is an experience without interruptions and problems. There is also always the case that parents may decide to be silently present in the first 1-2 online courses. So, the better prepared you are, the better impression will make.
Pretty much everything new, online teaching needs experience. Because online frameworks differ from the conventional ones, always have a plan B (back-up) with additional activities in case the lesson runs faster than expected, filling the empty time presented if such a thing happens.
Do not forget during the lecture to always show something to the students’ monitor. The reason is that the human brain is more easily attracted by images than text or speech. For this purpose, have a presentation ready in the tool of your choice, like PowerPoint, Nearpod, Prezi, H5P, etc, and use it during your lesson.
Asynchronous Learning: Communication
Maintain a consistent online presence. Communication is essential in the online classroom environment. Get involved and let your students present themselves and transfer the warmth of the physical classroom to digital form.
Make sure your students know the best methods and times to contact you. Not having a teacher present can make some students nervous. Try to relax them by answering questions in a timely manner and providing instructions and comments regularly.
Asynchronous Learning: Motivation
Everyone learns differently - and motivation plays a big role in the learning process. While some students are self-motivated others may not be. Unnecessary work may be omitted by some. Think of ways to motivate all your students to make the most of your class. This may include providing additional points, if a gamification system is used, for online discussions or optional work. Deadlines can also help promote your more unmotivated students. Your goal is to find ways to help your students make the most of their digital classroom.
Feedback is extremely important in order to improve one's teaching skills. Feedback is categorized between feedback from students and feedback from collegues.
Feedback from students
Your students can offer you valuable feedback that can help you improve your classroom. With education moving constantly towards online learning, your students have probably already experienced an online classroom. This experience can help them inform you about the pros and cons of your overall online class. Poll-type tools can be particularly useful for self-improvement and enhancing the learning experience offered.
Feedback from other educators
In addition to your students, find and connect with other online teachers. Education is a field of "sharing" and so these potential communities of practice with other teachers could prove valuable for the development of your online educational skills.
Undoubtedly, these are some of the main problems that one may encounter when starting the journey of online teaching. With proper preparation, experience and a positive mentality, these problems will be a drop in the ocean of your upcoming journey. So, have faith, and try. Even you fail slightly at first, do try again and eventually you shall succeed.