Community and UT go hand and hand.
As this online semester causes increased feelings of isolation, however, the community feels more out of reach than ever. While sitting on Zoom for hours on end is lonely enough, drudging through independent work alone in asynchronous classes is much, much worse.
Moving into next semester, professors should offer synchronous classes when possible in order to help engage students and build a classroom community.
In asynchronous classes, where there are no scheduled meeting times and all work is self-paced, students feel increasingly disconnected from their classmates.
“(When I found out my classes were asynchronous) … I realized I’m never going to see another student because I’m not going to have a Zoom class or a lecture,” corporate communication senior Sophia Hennessy said. “I’m never going to get to talk about any ideas or anything I’m learning with anyone who’s doing it as well.”
Asynchronous classes also leave students feeling unfamiliar with their professors, as there are no means of regularly meeting with them.
“In my synchronous classes, I feel like I can actually speak to my professors or just go to office hours and things like that,” undeclared freshman Jenna Parison said. “But it just seems like the (professors) in my asynchronous classes are really unapproachable.”
Zoom fatigue is real and exhausting, but at least online synchronous classes allow students to feel a little closer to peers and professors.
“I know that Zoom classes suck and we don’t like to be online or turn on our cameras, but I didn’t realize the alternative would be so isolating,” Hennessey said.
Of course, synchronous classes don’t work for every student. Asynchronous classes provide a flexible schedule that benefits students who work or take on other extra responsibilities.
“I work part time as a nanny, so being able to kind of construct my own schedule and get things done at the beginning of the day so I can pick the kids up after school has been really helpful for me,” said Jailyn Serrano, international relations and global studies freshman.
Additionally, for professors with a large number of students to accommodate, asynchronous online classes make the most sense.
For instance, psychology associate professor James Curley has about 500 students that take his Introduction to Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences course every year. With an online asynchronous course, he can teach one class of 250 students per semester as opposed to five classes of 50.
It’s understandable why this format is appealing. However, when asynchronous classes are necessary, professors can still provide synchronous methods for students to communicate and engage with one another.
Synchronous discussion sections each week for students to talk through the material, discussion posts on Canvas and live review sessions are all great additions that can help students get to know each other and their professors. Additionally, professors and TAs should encourage students to form study groups and collaborate on classwork in a way that fosters connection and community.
At the end of the day, virtual learning is a fundamentally lonely format of education. Given the circumstances, it’s impossible to avoid, but it’s not impossible to form communities within classes. Amid this new normal, professors must utilize tools that help us feel connected with our peers by incorporating synchronous formats as much as possible.
Hosek is a psychology freshman from Austin, Texas.