How online learning supports shier students

Asynchronous sessions give students more flexibility to engage with the class materials in ways that work best for them
By: | March 30, 2020
When shifting to online learning during the coronavirus, college faculty should take stock of the edtech tools students are already using and comfortable with. (Gettyimages.com: Tera Vector)When shifting to online learning during the coronavirus, college faculty should take stock of the edtech tools students are already using and comfortable with. (Gettyimages.com: Tera Vector)
Vivian Maria Vasquez

Vivian Maria Vasquez

A major opportunity created by online learning is shier students how have new avenues to participate in class discussions, says Vivian Maria Vasquez, a professor in the School of Education at American University.

Asynchronous sessions give students more flexibility to engage with the class materials in ways that work best for them. They can decide what time of day to engage and set their own pace, Vasquez says.

“In asynchronous spaces, they don’t have to find opportunities to enter into a class conversation or discussion, they can simply post when they are able, within the allotted time frame,” Vasquez says. “They can also touch base with the instructor, or teacher, if they need assistance, prior to posting their work online, which for some students alleviates a sense of vulnerability.”

When shifting to online learning, faculty should take stock of the edtech tools students are already using and comfortable with. For students who struggle with the technology, instructors can reach out by phone or even mail out materials.


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Instructors can also extend the due date of assignments for students who are having trouble with the online learning process. And recorded video or audio sessions let students revisit the content as many times as they want, particularly if instructors provide transcripts, Vasquez says.

“The bottom line is we have to keep finding ways that allow our courses to be accessible to students, who have diverse needs,” Vasquez says. “We definitely need to capitalize on this experience to consider what technology affords the work that we do and how we might make the most of online spaces to engage all of our students in powerful and pleasurable ways.”

Six more online learning tips for faculty

Vasquez offers several other guidelines for faculty making the online transition:

  • Don’t technologize your existing courses. Instead, imagine what the technology and online spaces might afford the work that you are trying to accomplish. Rather than giving more traditional research papers for assignments consider giving multimedia options for assignments.
  • Be careful with your time to ensure that all students are able to contribute to class discussions.
  • Create smaller classes especially because some faculty and students are not used to working online.
  • Hold office hours after class rather than having students log back in at an alternate time.
  • Find a function in whichever platform you choose that allows students to queue up during the online class so that anyone who has something to say can do so.
  • Gauge student learning and plan instructional moves and personalization that helps to keep all students engaged and on track.

“There is a distinction that one needs to sort out regarding, what it means to technologize one’s teaching, versus imagining what online spaces and technology could afford our teaching and our students’ learning,” Vasquez says. “The latter is what leads one to be successful at teaching in online spaces.”


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