Asynchronous strategies and overview

What are some asynchronous online course design strategies?

At the heart of creating a great online course lie six simple principles:

  1. Be present: Welcome your students, answer their questions as quickly as you can, and show your presence in all aspects of the course. Make sure students know how to get in touch with you, how long they can expect to wait for a response, and how you plan on communicating with them (e.g., WebCampus Inbox, University of Nevada Reno email, Announcements, etc.).
  2. Organization and ease of navigation: Create a course that's easy to navigate, personalized, well organized, and consistent in presentation. Consider using ODL’s Asynchronous Course Template for consistency and ease in meeting Standard 1 of the University Standards for Digital Instruction.
  3. Communicate expectations and criteria: Let students know what to expect. Grade assignments quickly and provide detailed feedback. Consider using the Rubric tool within WebCampus to expedite grading and provide great feedback.
  4. Create engaging material: Keep students engaged and expect to frequently update your course. Embrace video and infographic creation, sharing links to related material, and crack a joke here or there—anything that can personalize your course and demonstrate your personality is a great addition to your course.
  5. Meet all standard accreditations and federal guidelines: There are three important standards that must be met for asynchronous online courses: (1) University Standards for Digital Instruction; (2) Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI); and (3) Student Identity Verification. Your course should also be the equivalent to what students experience in an in-person course; see Online Course Contact Hours for more information.
  6. Keep your course dynamic: Expect to regularly update your course as you teach it. You will work hard to design an online course that can be used for many semesters but remember that you should update it as frequently as you would an in-person course. At the start of each semester that you plan to offer it, carefully peruse it and make all necessary updates before giving students access.

What are the benefits and return-on-investment of asynchronous online courses?

There is no getting around the fact that developing an asynchronous online course is a lot of work. It typically takes 6-9 months to complete course development, as developing a high-quality asynchronous online course is comparable to writing a small textbook. It is very difficult to do if you have a heavy teaching load and many extracurricular activities. However, the return on investment makes doing so absolutely worth it:

  • Upon completion of development, you have an entire course completed and ready to repeat, revise, and reuse indefinitely.
  • The course can be scaled and adjusted prior to offering it to accommodate different enrollment, student feedback, and any odd issue that you might encounter that particular semester (e.g., emergency sick leave, etc.).
  • Asynchronous online courses can be designed to be taught by multiple different instructors, which is more time and cost effective for the academic department and university.
  • If a department employs many instructors who are brand new to teaching, a fully developed asynchronous online course designed to meet all standards is an excellent opportunity for instructors to learn how to teach online while the department maintains quality control of the course.

Additionally, when specifically considering asynchronous online lectures, there are four advantages:

  1. Instructors prepare lecture material for students in advance of students’ access, which helps to ensure the product is well produced, designed, and delivered.
  2. Students may access the course materials at a time of their choosing and will interact with each over a longer period of time.
  3. Asynchronous lectures boast higher levels of temporal flexibility over synchronous, which may simultaneously make the learning experiences more accessible to different students.
  4. There is also the potential for increased cognitive engagement since students will have more time to engage with and explore the course material.

Finally, UT at Austin’s Center for Teaching and Learning provides three key benefits of asynchronous online learning:

  1. Democratization of the classroom: Students are given the opportunity to consider materials while contributing thoughtful responses and creating well-crafted work, can be required to participate more often, are given opportunities for both learning and socialization, and online courses are more accessible for students who require additional resources.
  2. Convenience and flexibility in scheduling: Flexibility facilitates the balancing of school, work, family, and other obligations, which gives students time to digest course materials, complete assignments in a thoughtful way, review material, re-watch videos, and respond meaningfully to their classmates.
  3. Development of digital fluency: Understanding and using technology is an important skill for every career in the twenty-first century. Online classes give students the chance to hone such skills and gain proficiency with a myriad of online tools and apps.

What tools and tech do I need to know to develop an asynchronous online course?

While most of the development of your online course is handled in relatively intuitive programs, the fact is you are still creating an online course and must be ready to develop, teach, troubleshoot, and work with students in a digital format. As such, you will need to be comfortable with the following:

  • WebCampus: If you are not very comfortable with all of the tools in WebCampus, consider taking the WebCampus Basics course that ODL offers before completing any online development and delivery trainings. Most especially, you must know how to use the following tools and add-ons in WebCampus:
    • Pages
    • Ally and Rich Content Editor Accessibility Checkers
    • Assignments
    • Discussions
    • Quizzes
    • Files
    • Grades
    • Announcements
    • Inbox
  • Microsoft Office: Word, PowerPoint, and their accessibility checkers
  • Camtasia, Zoom, and/or Kaltura: If you plan on offering videos in your course these are the university supported software programs.
  • Turnitin: If you teach a lower level high-enrollment core course, including the anti-plagiarism tool Turnitin LTI with all assignments is a good idea.
  • Respondus: If you plan on incorporating proctored exams in your course, you must be familiar with the University’s supported remote proctoring system.
  • NevadaBox (recommended): Being familiar with the University’s file sharing program is helpful in preparing you for an organized course development process.
  • Google Docs (recommended): While not supported by the University, Google Docs are used prolifically by your students. Understanding the basics of Google Docs and reminding your students to submit only approved file types within WebCampus is a good idea.
  • Course Reserves: If you plan on scanning and sharing readings online, you will need to discuss the matter with the Library Reserves team.
  • Third Party Homework Management Programs: If you use any third-party homework management programs, such as Pearson’s MyLab, McGraw-Hill Connect, etc., you must be prepared to troubleshoot student issues and sync the program in WebCampus on your own (or with your textbook representative’s support).

How will I engage with my students in an asynchronous online course?

All online courses must adhere to federal guidelines related to Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI). A commonly asked question is how instructors can engage with students in the asynchronous digital format. Luckily, WebCampus includes many tools with which to engage with your students:

A final note on engagement: The Discussions tool is the primary engagement tool for student-student engagement in asynchronous online courses. As such, it can cause anxiety for both instructors and students. To help combat this, we have compiled a Discussion Strategies webpage that provides tips, explanations, and other helpful information for designing and facilitating online discussions. Our ODL Online Course Delivery Training also has helpful information for facilitating online discussions.

What methods are available to me to deliver lecture content in an asynchronous course?

The primary means of providing lecture content to students asynchronously is through written content, video content, or a mix of both. The “what, why, and how” of the different lecture options along with tips and tech recommendations is provided below for both types of lectures.

Written lecture content tips

  • What: Similar to textbook creation, the instructor provides all lecture material in written format, complete with any necessary images, diagrams, and graphs within the text.
  • How: Draft or paste lecture content in Pages within Module, then check for accessibility.
  • Why: Great option for FCDs who do not use PowerPoint or slide presentations

Quick tips for creating content

  • Draft your notes in Word or Google Docs and use the spell and grammar check, then copy and paste your completed lectures into Pages within the module. If you prefer to link to the lecture notes in your module, make sure your Word or PDF documents are accessible.
  • Consider whether you would want such a “lecture” provided to you as the learner. If the answer is “no,” then your written lecture is not meeting best practices. Avoid providing bulleted lists or outlines of your oral lecture notes. All lecture notes should be in complete sentences. Students become very frustrated when they can’t understand your shorthand or abbreviations.
  • Model the writing and presentation you want to see in your students’ work. Use the lecture notes as an opportunity to create a polished written example of what students should also complete. For example, provide a list of references and in-text citations incorporated throughout.
  • All images should be free to use and share via Creative Commons licensing and include alternative text and a source.

WebCampus tools for building content

Screen-captured video lectures

  • What: Narrated slide videos or tutorial-style explainer videos
  • How: Using screen capturing technology (Camtasia, Kaltura, or Zoom)
  • Why: Great option for instructors who use PowerPoint or slide presentations; when created with a detailed script, students prefer this method; working with ODL leads to very polished final product

Quick tips for video production

  • To meet best practices in online video lecture delivery, each topical video should be between approximately 7 and 12 minutes in length; not to exceed 15 minutes.
  • Include as many video lectures as needed to meet the module-level learning outcomes—perhaps the week’s topic breaks into four 15-minute lectures very nicely, or maybe it’s more like five or six 10-minute videos.
  • Avoid recording asynchronous PowerPoint video lectures without a script. When a recorded lecture is disorganized, meandering, and incomplete, it is very difficult to watch and retain information. When students view asynchronous lecture videos, they are engaging in a passive listening experience. As such, what your students hear needs to be polished and complete to help engage them.
  • Avoid using pre-recorded remotely taught Zoom lectures from a prior semester. Writing, creating, and recording video lectures for long term, repetitive, and asynchronous use is a laborious and time-consuming endeavor. We would like to say there are tricks to doing it more quickly, but honestly, the best, most polished lectures are those specifically written and created by the FCD for the online course.

Tech and tools for creating videos

We’re here to help!

Everything outlined above is also provided in depth via ODL’s asynchronous online trainings. Simply email if you’d like to be added to our Online Course Delivery Training and reach out to your Chair if you think proposing an asynchronous online course is right for your department.