Synchronous learning and the asynchronous online course

The new GRCC strategic plan includes a college action project (CAP) focusing on expanding and improving outcomes in online learning. CAP members include faculty, staff, and administrators from various disciplines and departments across campus. This year we will be piloting a web-conferencing solution – Zoom- in tandem with Techsmith Relay SaaS – a cloud-based media management tool. Our goal is to improve access to student support services and increase instructor immediacy and teaching presence in the virtual classroom.

Skype video conference
Skype – CC-BY-NC-SA by M. Fawcett on Flickr

Departments that will be exploring how to use these technologies to support distance learners include: advising, enrollment services, the Library, academic tutoring and student success. Students will be able to consult with support professionals in real-time using audio / video or through the instant messaging / chat feature. Other features include a “waiting room” offering privacy when serving students one at a time, a whiteboard, screen sharing, remote control, and a recording feature for students to review help sessions later.

In a 2010 study, C. Baker from Tarleton State University, found that synchronous online learning resulted in significantly higher levels of instructor immediacy and presence. Teacher presence is the degree to which a student feels their instructor is accessible and responsive in the virtual classroom. Immediacy refers to the degree to which students feel their instructor is a “real person”.

The use of synchronous technologies such as web-conferencing in the online course can help to mitigate feelings of isolation which often result in lower student satisfaction levels and higher attrition rates. However, there are certain constraints in regards to flexibility when adding synchronous activities to an asynchronous online course .

Using a design-based research approach, P. Lowenthal and others (2017) were intentional in their efforts to leverage synchronous technologies in the  redesign of virtual office hours. Although few students historically attended office hours – whether virtual or face-to-face – by including the synchronous sessions in the syllabus, using the LMS calendar to remind students of the sessions, adding a brief instructional lesson and recording the session, they saw increased student attendance, participation, and satisfaction.


Baker, C. (2010) The Impact of Instructor Immediacy and Presence for Online Student Affective Learning, Cognition, and Motivation. The Journal of Educators Online. 7(1), 1-30.

Lowenthal, P. R.; Dunlap, J. C. & Snelson, C. (2017). Live synchronous web meetings in asynchronous online courses: Reconceptualizing virtual office hours. Online Learning 21(4), 177-194. doi: 10.24059/olj.v21i4.1285

Nearly all undergrads now own a smartphone

According to the Educause Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) smartphone ownership amongst college undergrads is nearly ubiquitous. The ECAR 2017 Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology found that 97 percent of college students now own a smartphone. The vast majority of students are connected virtually anytime / anywhere. As far as using their devices for school: 78 percent said their smartphones are “moderately important to their academic success”.

How do they use their smartphones for academics?

According to a recent article in Campus Technology 67 percent of fully-online students use their smartphones for completing at lease some of their coursework, including accessing reading content, communicating with their professors and classmates, accessing video and slide presentations, etc.


Brooks, D. Christopher & Pomerantz, Jeffrey. (2017) ECAR study of undergraduate students and information technology, 2017. Educause Center for Analysis and Research.

Schaffhauser, Dian. (2018). Two-thirds of online students do some coursework on a mobile device. Campus Technology.

Additional resources:

Anderson, Monica & Jiang, Jingjing. (2018). Teens, social media & technology 2018. Pew Research Center.