WMU instructor pointing to a student during class

WMU's Teaching Modalities

Brief Overview

Brief Overview

At Western Michigan University, courses are offered in one of five formats: in-person, hybrid, and asynchronous, fully synchronous, or partially synchronous distance education. Students see these designations when they register for courses. The following sections will define the modalities while providing insights into the advantages and special considerations of each one.

Descriptions, Quick Tips, and Activities

 

In-person (traditional face-to-face)

In-person courses meet physically in classrooms, laboratories or other instructional spaces according to specific meeting days and times scheduled in Banner. In-person delivery offers students hands-on or participatory learning in a face-to-face format.

Considerations
  • Students will attend all scheduled in-person course meetings.
  • Office hours can be held in person or virtually.

 

Hybrid

Courses meet both in-person and virtually, with 51% or more of instruction occurring through distance education, either asynchronously or synchronously. Asynchronous content delivery takes place virtually without any scheduled meetings, whereas synchronous content is delivered within regularly scheduled meetings. The hybrid format is used when some of the course delivery requires hands-on or participatory learning scenarios in a physical format.

Considerations
  • Students will attend all scheduled in-person or synchronous meetings.
  • For the distance ed portion of the class, students will need access to a computer with reliable Internet connectivity.
  • If applicable, students will need to become familiar with synchronous meeting etiquette.
  • Office hours can be held in person or virtually.

 

Asynchronous Distance Education

Courses meet exclusively via distance ed through the learning management system (Elearning) or Teams and require no in-person or synchronous virtual meetings. Some instructors may choose to offer optional virtual synchronous sessions for collaborative work or other course-related activities.

Considerations
  • Distance delivery offers the greatest flexibility for both students and instructors but requires a high degree of self-discipline and motivation.
  • Students need to actively manage their participation by checking instructor emails, course announcements, due dates and, if applicable, group assignments.
  • Students should make a point to read feedback on their assignments and get help in a timely manner from the instructor or teaching assistants. It can be easy to fall behind in a class when it does not meet in-person.
  • Exams and other assessments may be time-limited or held on specific days and times.
  • Students will need access to a computer with reliable Internet connectivity.
  • Office hours will be held virtually.

 

Fully Synchronous Distance Education

Courses meet exclusively through distance ed technologies according to the pre-scheduled meeting days and times indicated in Banner. The learning management system (Elearning) and other distance and collaboration technologies are used to facilitate activities such as discussions, group exercises, distribution of materials, collection of deliverables, grades, etc.

As an example, a synchronous distance ed course scheduled for TR 9:30-10:45 would engage students in activities, lectures, and discussions via Webex during those scheduled times.

Considerations
  • This format allows students and instructors to follow a predictable schedule of meeting times without needing to be in a classroom space.
  • Students will need to become familiar with synchronous meeting etiquette.
  • Students are required to attend all scheduled synchronous course meetings.
  • Office hours will be held virtually.

 

Partially Synchronous Distance Education

Courses are facilitated through the learning management system (Elearning) or Teams and require no in-person sessions, but instructors can incorporate periodic synchronous virtual sessions when the subject matter requires real-time demonstration, collaboration or interaction. The dates and times for required synchronous sessions must be made clear to students on syllabi so they can coordinate their academic, personal and work schedules.

Considerations
  • Students will need access to a computer with reliable internet connectivity.
  • Students need to actively manage their participation by checking instructor emails, course announcements, due dates and, if applicable, group assignments.
  • Students should make a point to read faculty feedback on their assignments and get help in a timely manner from the instructor or teaching assistants. It can be easy to fall behind in a class when it does not meet in-person.
  • Students will need to become familiar with synchronous meeting etiquette.
  • Students are required to attend all scheduled synchronous course meetings.
  • Office hours will be held virtually.

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Quick Tips

  1. Each modality requires a different pedagogy. Every teaching modality has its advantages. Meeting students in-person allows you to witness their reactions to material and to each other in real time. Placing a course into an asynchronous mode allows you to upload all of the material prior to the start of a semester, freeing up your time during the semester, since you only need to respond to student work. Synchronous courses, with their blend of chat, screen sharing, breakout rooms, and on-camera functions, allow you to deliver a variety of teaching practices in an efficient way.

    Each modality also requires different skills. Teaching in-person requires classroom management in order to ensure that all students are participating and learning in an attentive manner. You will also need to establish a laptop/tablet/phone policy, norms around chat and camera use, and deal with distractions, such as students coming in late or drifting off task. Meanwhile, teaching asynchronously requires manufacturing engagement in a situation where student responses are delayed and are almost always conveyed in writing. You will also need to establish norms around chat and camera use.

    The following tips and resources will help you better understand which modalities are the right fit for use in your classes.

  2. Establish an accessibility practice in every modality. Each teaching mode requires different accessibility practices to ensure that every student can learn in your course. Tools such as closed captioning, Ally (a tool that helps make your Elearning materials accessible), and microphones are all useful, as is setting up a consultation with WMUx's Instructional Technology Center, where you will be paired with an accessibility specialist who can guide you through making your courses barrier-free.

  3. Spend time personalizing your asynchronous course site in order to enhance student engagement. The default in Elearning sites is a black and white outline that provides organization to your course but does nothing to encourage student engagement. Adding clip art, images, or videos to your Elearning space helps signal the difference among your course topics and modules, and it provides a sense of mood regarding the subject matter.

    Videos, especially those under 5 minutes, are an excellent way for you to connect with your students. These clips can be recorded on a phone or tablet, downloaded to Mediasite or YouTube, and shared via a link. In addition to using videos to share course content, you can use them to respond to common themes in a discussion post or to make observations about student performance on a quiz or exam. YouTube automatically provides closed captioning for videos, but you can get your Mediasite videos closed captioned by visiting Accessible Media and Closed Captioning services.

  4. Respond to student activity in asynchronous spaces so that a rhythm of interactions takes place in the course. Even in the most inviting and visually interesting asynchronous space, it is easy for students to feel isolated or to wonder if you are reading their work. Keeping tabs on discussion posts and joining the conversation periodically allows students to see that you are also actively engaged and aware of their contributions to the course. Returning responses quickly and using video or audio grading can also personalize an asynchronous space by making tangible your presence as an instructor.

  5. Use the chat, breakout room, and polling features to encourage participation during synchronous sessions. One of the major advantages to synchronous teaching is that it allows students to communicate in a variety of ways, often without distraction. For instance, placing students into breakout rooms for group work enables everyone to see shared documents and internet resources clearly. Groups are able to work without needing to tune out conversations from other groups, and you can move among the groups, providing advice and checking on progress.

    The chat function allows students who are shy to participate, and everyone can share links and resources with the entire class. Developing the ability to lead a discussion while monitoring the chat is one that some instructors pick up quickly and even enjoy, but for many instructors, the split attention is annoying. One way to move between discussion and the chat is to appoint a student to watch the chat and inform you when new ideas emerge there.

    The chat is also a useful place to ask students to type their reactions or to type out short responses. Polling widgets such as Slido enable you to gauge students' opinions or preferences. Both chat and polling help students stay focused and alert.

  6. Establish camera preferences upfront to create a productive synchronous environment for you and your students. During the height of the pandemic, when almost all educational work was occurring online, discussions emerged regarding whether students should be allowed to attend class without turning on their cameras. Compelling points were made by educators who disliked teaching to a grid of names and by students who did not want to have their educational experience on display for people in their homes or who did not want their homelife to be on display for the class. There was also the issue of screen fatigue, since many students were spending hours a day in a virtual learning space.

    Currently, most students are taking a mix of in-person and online courses, and we have all gotten used to at least some "on camera" time during a typical day. Establishing a camera preference with your students early in the semester can help you to create a productive classroom environment, but it is a mark of consideration to have students communicate their own preferences to you confidentially since their desire to remain off camera may be rooted in reasons that they do not want to share with their peers.

    Some instructors have chosen to require cameras on during discussions, but not during lectures. Others have asked students to have their cameras on in breakout rooms, but not in the main classroom. And others have allowed students a set number of "camera off" days per semester. Whatever policy you prefer, having an open discussion with students about why you are instituting your camera policy will ensure that everyone feels ready to learn in your synchronous course.

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Activities

Interested in trying some activities in the various instructional modes? Here are a few to get you started!

OneHE offers activities related every teaching modality. For in-person techniques, check out this think/pair/share tool. And for synchronous teaching, try out this online facilitation refresher. OneHE has hundreds of activities submitted by teaching and learning experts that are easy to employ.

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Articles and Resources

Articles and Resources

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