Digital Collaboration Digital Culture

Going asynchronous: exploring impact on cohort and sense of community in a PGCert Academic Practice


Steph Fuller and Ana Cabral, from Queen Mary Academy, Queen Mary University of London discuss the value of asynchronous communications in building community engagement

Authors: Steph Fuller and Ana Cabral

What exactly was the shift in culture and/or organisational practice that you wish to highlight?

When the pandemic took hold and we were suddenly required to move all teaching and learning online, we were part way through delivery of all the modules which form our PGCert in Academic Practice and Certificate in Learning and Teaching. The first module in particular (‘Learning and Teaching in Higher Education’) had a strong focus on community building, and included small group microteaching sessions which were, up until this point, held live in person. The microteaching involved course participants delivering a mini teaching session to their course peers and tutors about one of their teaching topics, and then providing feedback to each other using a google form. This included a set of topics to be considered when identifying areas of good practice and areas for improvement. Many participants highlighted this as one of the most valuable elements of the course for them.

The microteaching is not assessed, but participants needed to complete it in order to write a reflection on the process of planning and delivering a session for a summative assignment. Without a wholesale change in module assessment and learning outcomes, we would not be able to forgo the microteaching. Many of our course participants have dual roles as university teachers and clinicians working in the NHS. Of course, these colleagues were swiftly drawn fully into their clinical roles. Academic colleagues on the course were faced with the task of immediately transforming their teaching for online delivery.

Considering this context, we decided to offer not only live online microteaching sessions which would seek to replicate the in-person experience, but also an asynchronous submission option. Participants could record their session using voice over PowerPoint or other video recording systems. Our overarching aim was to support as many colleagues as possible to continue and complete our courses, and we sought to be as flexible in our approach as possible.

What did ‘working well’ look like?

Many colleagues took up the asynchronous option and really appreciated the opportunity. It offered full flexibility and enabled them to complete the microteaching activity entirely in their own time which proved much more convenient at that difficult time. We used online forums incorporated within the module virtual learning environment for participants to upload their asynchronous microteaching, or post a link to an online area or file. A separate google form was used for submission of peer feedback which was then distributed to participants.

We were able to ensure that asynchronous participants still received peer and tutor feedback on their microteaching. Asynchronous participants were also able to view and review each others’ work. However, without bringing a group together synchronously we felt there was a negative impact on the building of community and cohort identity.

Some of the asynchronous work submitted was in the form of simple adaptations of in-person sessions, or pre-recorded lectures. However, with future iterations of the module we developed more guidance around what an asynchronous microteaching might constitute and instructed participants that it should be equivalent to a 15 minute instance of teaching/supporting learning that their peers could engage with asynchronously. This has led to some excellent work where participants have really explored the wide range of possibilities available through asynchronous delivery. These have included Jamboards with embedded audio and interactive activities, PowerPoint slides with audio and questions/activities to work through, and PowerPoint with links to Mentimeter quizzes or Padlets.

For subsequent iterations of the module, we have made use of the Moodle ‘workshop’ tool embedded in the virtual learning environment to manage asynchronous microteaching submissions. The tool enables participants to upload files or add links, then automatically allocates a set number of peers for them to provide feedback to. Once feedback is given, then the tool releases it to the recipient. This has drastically reduced the administrative burden related to this activity. It is also a great opportunity to model this tool to our participants, some of whom have gone on to use it with their own students.

How could this practice be spread?

Since the introduction of the asynchronous microteaching, we have introduced asynchronous options for all presentation assignments and activities throughout the programme. We have also updated our programme engagement expectations to allow for participants to engage in a wholly asynchronous manner, and still be able to successfully complete the course.

For those participating asynchronously in specific activities, or in general, we need to do more in terms of supporting the development of their sense of community, for example, through the creation of specific forums for colleagues to discuss the challenges and benefits of developing asynchronous presentations.

Any colleagues whose programmes include assessed presentations could consider the introduction of an asynchronous option for submission. Asynchronous offers students much more flexibility and so is more inclusive and accessible. It also takes off the pressure of ‘performance’ and support students to better convey content and have the opportunity to work on the presentation until they are happy to submit it. Asynchronous modes of communication are also becoming more and more relevant in today’s world. Developing skills in engaging audiences asynchronously may offer students valuable experience they can draw on in the future.

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