In this MiniCPD, Gabi Witthaus and Melanie Roxby-Mackey (HEFi Team in CAL) discuss how to engage students via synchronous and asynchronous interaction, and share their top tips for running engaging online seminars and discussion boards respectively. For further advice and guidance on bimodal delivery, you are encouraged to enrol in the Canvas Remote Teaching Resource. For further MiniCPD and MicroCPD, see the MicroCPD Library. 


Gabi: Well, we're here to talk about synchronous versus asynchronous interaction in remote delivery, so let's start with synchronous interaction because that's what we're doing now - talking live to each other. In remote delivery, the main synchronous interaction would be via online seminars. So, what would you say in terms of online seminars - what top tip would you give?

Mel: I'd say preparation is absolutely the key, and to make sure that you're familiar with your equipment. Perhaps also to make sure that you've got agreed procedures with your students, so for example, if a connection's lost. I think having a checklist also would be really important to make sure that you know everything's going to work. I think just doing a little bit of prep like that really takes the pressure off.

Gabi: Great - yeah, I completely agree and I would add aim for student interaction as much as possible, because we know from the research into distance learning that that really helps engagement. So, anything you can do to encourage interaction - get students grabbing the mic or chatting using the text chat. If the text chat's going too fast, you could break students into breakout rooms while you read it. You could give them a short task to do for a few minutes to give yourself a chance to catch up. The whiteboard is another way of getting students to interact.

Mel: Well, there's lots more we could say about synchronous, but maybe we could think a little, take a couple of moments to think about asynchronous interaction. What would be your tips for that Gabi?

Gabi: So, for me, the easiest way to do asynchronous interaction between students online is through using discussion boards - and I love discussion boards. I think they give students a great way of interacting flexibly in their own time. I would give students a week or two for a discussion task. Make the task quite open-ended so they can all give different answers, and encourage them to respond to one another.

Mel: That's great - I think when using discussion boards, one of the best things that you can do to make sure that it's most effective for you and also for the students is to make sure that you've managed their expectations about when you're going to join in the discussion and what kind of activity you're going to undertake. So, for example, you might opt to log in weekly and then just summarise the main points of the discussions that the students have been undertaking themselves.

Gabi: Yeah, I completely agree. So, to summarise, our top tips for both synchronous and asynchronous interaction would be: preparation, managing students' expectations, and encouraging interaction as much as possible. Well, there's much more we could say about it, and if anyone wants extra guidance or support, the HEFi remote teaching resource is great for that - and every College also has its own associated resources.