Engaging Virtually With Learners Using Synchronous and Asynchronous Teaching and Learning Activities

The Covid-19 outbreak and related restricted movements are challenging educationists. Globally, numerous institutions are encouraging their faculty members to embrace online teaching and learning strategies and methods to mitigate the risk of interruptions to daily teaching and learning activities. Among them, academics from Taylor’s University are adopting various educational strategies, supported by virtual learning environments (VLE) and technologies.

Dr. Elise Mognard, Senior Lecturer at Taylor’s University, Faculty of Social Sciences and Leisure Management, reflects upon her recent experience with a group of 26 post-graduate learners from Master in International Hospitality Management (MIHM) and Master of Philosophy (Food Studies) programmes.

Beyond facilitating engagement of learners, she has chosen to maintain some synchronous sessions as an opportunity to structure the time of learners while most of the usual social regulations on that matter are currently lifted. Moving forward, she plans to continue preparing synchronous learning activities blended with asynchronous individual or group activities to encourage social interactions for all during this time of self-isolation and potentially high psychological stress.

The diversity of methods used was progressively increased as the learners and herself were getting familiar with the virtual environments and inherent pedagogies. For example, blending individual video analysis with individual reporting on a collaborative virtual board, such as Paddlet, together with synchronous debriefing via videoconferencing was rewarding in terms of participation of the learners, both from a qualitative and quantitative standpoint. In the interest of the engagement, she felt that the range of verbal and non-verbal cues that can be played with, in the context of a face-to-face lecture, has to be replaced by a variety of learning spaces and technologies.

The most challenging part is the limitation of the social interactions to verbal ones. Non-verbal cues are of essence when it comes to dealing with topics with high emotional implications for some of the learners. As a consequence, she found it challenging to speak about social discrimination processes without being able to appraise their reception by individuals. Besides, she also discovered that her assessment of the engagement of learners is very much based on body postures where attention is reflected in the eyes. Given the context where an important part of the semester is based on online engagement, she is yet to develop alternative strategies to assess the withdrawal risks.

Finally, during her experience, she met the learners “in person” before switching to the online teaching and learning mode. Though, she still wonders how to break the ice virtually as she will need to get started with a new group of learners.

From a technological standpoint, synchronous sessions where enabled via Zoom and Microsoft Teams. The video recording was of essence as some students were facing some Internet disruption during the time of the synchronous sessions. The video recordings were provided on the university’s Learning Management System (LMS) to mitigate this inevitable network issues. 

Classes were conducted online through Zoom.