As USC begins its third semester of online learning, many students are gradually adjusting to life and studies on a virtual campus. However, for students participating in classes asynchronously, there are still many obstacles to overcome, especially when it comes to class participation and in-class assignments. As more professors encourage student interactions within the class, asynchronous learning is becoming less flexible than it seems.
Asynchronous classes were established to improve the online learning experience for students currently living overseas in different time zones. According to USC’s “Policy and Guidelines for Asynchronous Learning,” students taking classes that fall outside the 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. time range in their region can opt to receive asynchronous learning accommodations. This means that students can watch recordings of the class instead of participating in the live session. Asynchronous learning is especially helpful to international students. During the fall semester, USC had over 4,000 students studying from other countries, and a majority were from Asia, which is 11 to 17 hours ahead of the Pacific Time Zone and does not use Daylight Savings Time. To attend live classes, these students would need to stay up all night. In light of these clear challenges, asynchronous learning helps international students find a balance between their lives and studies.
However, asynchronous accommodations still have limitations. Some students find that their choice of classes has been significantly limited when they cannot attend live sessions. Some classes make it clear that they require student attendance and in-class participation no matter what time zone students are in, often because of class activities such as group projects and class debates.
Participation in these activities is often counted towards final grades. In order to cope with these situations, some asynchronous students switch classes until they find one that happens at a reasonable time or allows fully asynchronous study. This process adds on more stress, negatively affecting their learning experience. Meanwhile, other students choose to stay up late and take classes after 11 p.m. or attend classes that occur as early as 3 a.m. in their time zone.
If this were to take place on a daily basis, it would not only decrease student efficiency, but also disturb the wake-sleep cycle and disrupt the body’s biological rhythm, which would be detrimental to physical and mental health. Both cases reflect the need for better accommodations to help asynchronous students have better and healthier learning experiences this semester.
There are many viable ways for classes to better accommodate students. Classes that require in-class participation can consider having a discussion board on Blackboard. This enables asynchronous students to share their thoughts and ideas after the live session has ended to receive credit. In the meantime, asynchronous students can also be arranged into separate groups based on their time zone and meet outside of class to work on group debates, speeches and other collaborative assignments. Students can record these activities and submit them to their professors.
Some professors may worry that asynchronous students will not watch the recorded videos. This can be solved by having asynchronous students answer questions about the content on the discussion board or send in answers to a prompt that is given in class.
For courses that require attendance for lab or discussion sections, the time of these sections should be varied to accommodate asynchronous students. Although this is difficult for small classes, larger classes may consider opening new sections when a significant number of students are international. Additionally, courses should indicate if they do not recommend asynchronous learning on the web registration page. This will help asynchronous students find the appropriate classes more easily during registration.
Remote learning can be difficult, and learning from a different time zone makes it even more challenging for students. It is imperative for the University to improve the asynchronous learning experience of its international students by providing them with better learning accommodations.