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To be synchronous or asynchronous, that is the question

By Elisha Chan, October 28 2020—

As the frost begins to settle over the city and midterms approach, I can confidently say that school has set in. However, it is an unconventional education setting — attending “Zoom University.”

How does it feel being able to wake up 10 minutes before lecture and still make it on time? In hindsight, the luxuries of online learning seem great, but at what cost? How will this affect the rest of our educational careers? Especially now that the university has officially decided that Winter 2021 will be online as well, it begs the question, are synchronous or asynchronous lecture styles best for student learning?

Synchronous lectures are the most similar to on-campus education. Many professors have even opted to record the lectures to accommodate those who may have other obligations. I initially thought synchronous lectures were great — they keep you on task and accountable for attending lectures, and provide the opportunity to ask questions and get answers in real time. Fast forward to now, I start to see the number of participants in each class decrease as the weeks go on. After asking around, many friends told me they preferred to watch the recording of the lecture so they could pause and take notes. This sounded reasonable — breaks could be taken when needed and the lectures could be paused or rewound if you missed something. But then I started wondering, what happens when we go back to live lectures on campus? Will I have forgotten how to take effective notes in real time? I realize the possibility of students back on campus seems to be far in the future, but as an individual who thinks learning should continue throughout one’s lifespan, I want to be ready.

Asynchronous lectures vary in the duration and amount of released content. For first-year students, managing the sheer amount of work on top of this inconsistent release method could be very difficult to handle. Think of the foundational habits one could develop. From previous experience, cramming five lectures in a row right before the midterm has proven majorly ineffective. It would be beneficial for a faculty to discuss and decide how long and at what time asynchronous lectures should be released in order to provide consistency for the students. I do find it more challenging to stay on task and keep a balanced school schedule with the freedom to do lectures when it is convenient for me. That is why I understand the benefits when professors put a timeframe on the lectures — it could be posting them on the day and time that the course is scheduled and removing the videos each week. This gives students a deadline and keeps them accountable. As mentioned, if an increasing number of students stop attending synchronous lectures because they are recorded, would it be better off to just have a completely asynchronous semester?

When evaluating the lecture styles it’s important to consider the goal of the university. Does it value the quality of education over accessibility? During a pandemic, students are tuning in from all over the world, which brings about the difficulty navigating time differences. Asynchronous lectures make the school accessible to international students or domestic students not living in Calgary. But some might consider this style of learning to “compromise” the high quality of education provided by a university.

Ultimately, education comes down to more than just the content. The skills students develop such as note taking and effective questioning that can translate into future jobs also matter. These skills would be difficult to cultivate in an asynchronous environment.

It will definitely be a readjustment when we move back onto campus no matter what lecture style you’ve become used to online and the preference will vary with each individual, but unless you have solid study habits that work online and in-person, I think having synchronous lectures is the best way to retain and develop proper learning skills. 

This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.


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