Over the summer, I’ve been talking occasionally with undergraduate students. When asked about their views and concerns about the upcoming Fall term (which in our University, will be fully online), most of them replied that they’re afraid of regular synchronous commitments (they didn’t necessarily use the word synchronous, but typically framed it as “live, scheduled lectures”).

Many of these students are either:

-Working part-time during day hours, because they, one or both parents lost jobs due to COVID-19
-Caring for someone at home
-Sharing limited bandwidth and computing devices with family members working from home
-In timezones that make it challenging to operate under University hours

I’m by no means an expert in pedagogy, and will not discuss the merits of synchronous or asynchronous delivery: people that know far more about it than I do have done that. Honestly, I think synchronous or asynchronous delivery does not matter much, as long as we do two things:

1-Make materials available asynchronously (you can teach synchronously and record for students to peruse later, or at least share slides and other materials if you don’t want a recorded video of you teaching).
2-Do not mandate attendance (and please don’t give marks for attendance, which is even worse, and in my opinion one of the worst sins of teaching in general, as it promotes a mindset of grades for jumping through hoops, rather than for learning).

Just doing these two things ensures that we don’t leave anyone behind (at least for the cases mentioned above) due to the unusual

Assessment (e.g., midterms) may, by its nature, only be offered synchronously, but these would be isolated events for which students can prepare in advance (arranging for time off work, etc.); not recurring events every week.

In conclusion, I’d like to frame teaching this term not as “synchronous versus asynchronous” delivery, but rather as “teaching such that every student has an asynchronous option to fall back on, if required“.

A potential counter argument to this thesis is: “students are expected to be full time students, available during the designated hours”. This is technically true. It’s also a position that hurts the most vulnerable and affected students.

I believe, in light of current events, we can take more understanding positions.