When you first heard about the schedule or received the emails explaining the format of this school year, you probably had a lot of questions going through your mind. One of those questions was probably something to do with the definition of asynchronous learning. It was originally described as a time for students to learn at their own pace with things like: pre-recorded lectures, readings, assignments, and analytical groups. The thing is, even after starting school, the definition of asynchronous learning has yet to be clarified. It feels like all this schedule has done is given us less work time and more confusion.
A common practice during in-person school is having an instructional lecture portion at the beginning of class and work time for the rest of class. For some students, whose teachers use all of synchronous class time with a video call, online school has taken away this normal in-class time to work on assignments. The idea of asynchronous afternoons was to essentially replicate that in-class work time.
Attendance during async time is taken in so many different ways, from going to an office hours zoom to filling out a google form, that many students just forget to check in at all. Franklin is currently going through a trial period where students are temporarily marked absent if they don’t check in before the end of the school day and a call is made to parents. If the student checks in within a day of the class where they were marked absent, they can get that absence removed. The lack of continuity in approaches to async has led many students to accrue absences and to get calls home when they were actually doing schoolwork.
The lack of a clear and strict definition is confusing for teachers, which leads to miscommunication and student confusion. Almost half of a pool of 78 PPS students surveyed said that they have at least one teacher holding mandatory class meetings during async time. There is no deadline for when teachers have to email students back during the afternoon, so if you’re doing work and need to ask a quick question, there’s no guarantee when you’ll get a response. When a teacher holds small groups or a meet to finish up something they didn’t have time for, every single assignment becomes homework.
The increase in homework leads to stress, lack of sleep and decompression time, and an unpleasant increase in time spent looking at a computer screen. Not to mention the fact that because students have four classes each semester, they’re receiving an overwhelming amount of material about one subject in a very short amount of time. Pushing all of this into their free time is extremely taxing. Additionally, there are impacts when teachers hold mandatory classes or small groups in the afternoon. Some students need to be prioritizing college information Zoom meetings and meetings with college admissions over class meetings and haven’t been able to for fear of falling too behind in their classes.
According to Principal Frazier, asynchronous learning was created because, “the break in the various instructional models allows for better support for students and teachers who may also be dealing with other conditions at home including caring for children, siblings or other family, responsibilities at home or even working outside of the home.” The idea was originally created as a recommendation made by the Oregon Department of Education saying that students should have one third of their day be synchronous and one third asynchronous. The intention is essentially to give time for classwork in our current online system but require it with attendance and some teacher involvement.
While the district’s intentions are good, they’ve made the list of possible asynchronous activities so long everyone is left feeling confused. Making it a time where there are no required class meetings or calls for anything would give students the time to get their work done. Work could be assigned at the end of each live class period, and the afternoons could be a study hall time. The amount of confusion created by the looseness of the definition and the general uncertainty about what the afternoon is supposed to be has taken away from the original intentions.
Even if asynchronous learning time doesn’t become a study hall, its definition should be tightened to create one standard across the board. If we set an expectation for the way it’s supposed to be done, school will be more manageable for everyone, teachers and students alike.