Colleges

Adapting Academic Support for Asynchronous Learning

This is a guest post written by Brett Haensel, a junior at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

Acknowledging the existence of timezones and varying student circumstances, many schools have focused their efforts on adding in flexibility to student learning experiences during this period of remote learning.

Asynchronous lectures, extended deadlines, and reduced coursework have allowed students to work on their own time and at their own pace. Furthermore, pass-fail grading options have provided much-needed equity in the midst of a crisis that impacts everyone differently. Still, despite this commitment to catering to student needs and limitations, many schools seem to have left one area behind: academic support.

While many students have been granted authority over when they do their work, they have not necessarily been given the same flexibility with regards to when they can seek help. Initially, when institutions of higher education went remote, I questioned whether an asynchronous structure (among other changes to the academic experience) would come at the cost of student engagement. Left to their own devices, would an average student be motivated to study, watch lectures, or read their textbooks with such seemingly low stakes? Now, I can confidently say that the answer is no if they fall behind and are left without truly accessible support.

Whereas many lectures are now asynchronous, most academic support services (e.g., peer tutoring, advising, office hours, TAs, etc.) are still being offered in narrow time frames, sometimes for as little as one hour on a specified day of the week. Of course, this is understandable to a certain degree; professors, TAs, and peer tutors cannot be expected to be “on call” any more than students can during this pandemic. With this in mind, however, school officials need to consider how they can make their academic support services more accessible for students by leveraging an on-demand model for booking with the aid of technology.

Here are some of the inadequacies of current support systems that I’ve been hearing about and/or have personally experienced thus far:
  • Video conferencing is not a holistic solution. Just because students could join a video call to get help doesn’t mean that they will. They should be able to get help when, where, and how they need it.
  • Listing a general email to contact is not good enough. Students should be able to view available tutors, advisors, mentors, etc., and contact the ones they want to meet with directly to schedule a time to meet. Schools need to remove any unnecessary friction to make services more accessible so that all students can get the help they need.
  • Drop-in doesn’t work in an online setting. The traditional method of having a set time for students to come get their questions answered doesn’t work well for remote learning. When you go to office hours, for example, you don’t usually have the rest of the queue listening to your conversation with the professor. Also, rigid timing is the opposite of what institutions are attempting to achieve with asynchronous learning.

I do not intend for this to come off as overly critical. Professors are doing all that they can to ensure quality academic experiences for their students, and they have already taken considerable steps to prevent students from falling behind. Regardless, many colleges and universities still have plenty of room to grow when it comes to offering academic support services that meet students where they are.

If your school is looking to scale academic support to ensure that students get the help they need, I’d suggest reading this article from Forbes that highlights how the University of Akron and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University have done just that by scaling student employment and increasing the accessibility of their services. Leaders from both schools also participated in a recent webinar to discuss this very topic, which can be viewed here.

Written by Brett Haensel

Brett Haensel is a junior in Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. In addition to his Journalism major, Brett is pursuing minors in both Classics and Business Institutions. He has written for the News & Observer in Raleigh, NC, and he has interned at the University of Chicago Urban Labs for Crime and Education. Brett is an avid runner and an aspiring writer who spends his free time watching and playing any and all sports. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.