From asynchronous to Zoom – overview in the virtual teaching jungle

The virtual semester brings all kinds of new courses into the timetable. Where previously lectures, exercises or tutorials were held in the lecture hall or seminar room, lecturers now invite students to webinars in virtual rooms. Screencasts can be downloaded, e-assessments have to be processed and a forum in the learning management system is used for exchange.

The new terms are Greek to you? Then get fit with the basic terms, concepts and tools for virtual teaching – from A for asynchronous to Z for Zoom!

Asynchronous vs. synchronous learning and blended learning

Asynchronous learning means that students can acquire learning content at a time of their choice. This can be watching an uploaded lecture recording or screencast, working through an e-learning module or reading a text. The advantage of asynchronous learning is the flexibility of time for the learners and that content can be easily repeated.

The opposite is synchronous learning. Here, the lecturer and the students come together virtually at the same time. This is the case with a webinar, for example.  The advantage of synchronous learning is the possibility to ask questions directly and to work and discuss with other students in virtual groups.

Many lecturers will probably start to enable a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous learning. In a webinar, questions are regularly answered and topics are discussed together. In between the classroom sessions, students have the opportunity to learn via videos and texts. A mixture of face-to-face and online teaching is called blended learning.

Virtual teaching formats

Webinars are ideal for synchronous virtual teaching. The lecturer creates a virtual room in advance. This works with services like Adobe Connect or Zoom. Students can enter the room via a link. Usually, the lecturer can be seen via webcam. Students can also switch on the camera and sound. This allows online discussions, chatting, file sharing and even group work. In addition, teachers can release a set of slides and thus give an almost completely normal lecture or write on a virtual whiteboard.

FAU recently acquired a full package license of the video conferencing tool Zoom for students and employees. Online lectures, seminars, but also learning groups can be set up quickly and easily by FAU members.

The learning management system (LMS) of FAU is called StudOn. With an LMS, courses can be displayed virtually. All participants of a lecture, exercise or seminar (lecturers, tutors and students) either register for a StudOn course or are accepted by the teacher.

The advantage of LMS is that basic teaching functions can be outlined there:

  • Communication: besides mail functions, chats and forums can be set up.
  • File storage: PDFs, videos or audio files can be uploaded and stored centrally for all members.
  • Collaboration: teachers can create databases, Etherpads (in other words documents on which students work synchronously) or request collaboration in wikis.
  • E-Learning modules: in an LMS, online courses can be provided by lecturers. Similar to a virtual book, learners can browse through chapters and edit interactive content.
  • E-assessments and surveys: would you like to take a small test to see if you have understood all the content? With the help of an e-assessment, lecturers can offer a virtual self-test in the LMS. Surveys are also possible.
  • E-examination: digital examinations can also be taken with the help of an LMS. It remains to be seen whether and under what circumstances they can also be processed at home during the summer semester.

Videos are a popular way of conveying content virtually. This can be done with classic formats such as lecture recordings, short explanatory videos of lectures or screencasts.

In a screencast, the screen is recorded by a PC or tablet. Teachers can record an audio commentary in parallel. Sometimes the teacher also appears in a small video in the corner – this makes it more personal. In this way, for example, presentation slides are explained or calculations are made on the tablet.

FAU provides the Camtasia program for employees. This can be used to make screen recordings and video editing for the creation of screencasts.

Rather unusual, but in principle also possible: lecturers provide you pure audio files that they have recorded.

All right?

Maybe some tools or concepts still sound a bit unfamiliar or you can’t really imagine what a webinar or e-learning module looks like. In the course of the semester you will certainly get a good idea of the possibilities of virtual learning – and in this way you will also develop your digital competence.