Tony Zhou | All large conferences must be asynchronous

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Credit: Michelle Gong

One of the legacies of distance learning is the addition of video recording devices to many classrooms, a legacy that still plays an important role for students who cannot attend classes due to complications from COVID-19. This technological advance is also benefiting the entire student body, as more and more students choose to watch recordings of lectures virtually instead of going to a physical classroom. While there have been voices in favor of a more flexible way of teaching through online learning, Penn should go further and make all large conferences asynchronous through recordings.

The immediate effect of making large conferences asynchronous is that it will allow busy Penn students to manage their time more effectively throughout the week. Instead of having to attend class at a specific time on a specific day, students can watch the recording at their own pace, giving them the flexibility to prioritize other commitments such as upcoming projects or exams. according to their variable weekly schedule.

In addition, online learning meets the needs of different students. While some students with prior knowledge may watch a recording at a faster playing speed, others who find the lesson difficult may pause the recording to think about a difficult concept or go back to review parts of the lesson. course they don’t understand.

Contrary to some opinions, asynchronous courses do not reduce the level of student engagement. The difference between large lectures and seminars is that the former does not involve a lot of direct interaction between the instructor and the students. Even if a student needed to ask a question or speak to the professor, they could still attend office hours live or use forums, such as Piazza, which allow instructors to answer questions remotely.

Instructor-student engagement for lectures usually occurs during recitations or group projects. Some might fear that asynchronous classes are preventing students from meeting their peers. However, since there are no discussions in class, students do not communicate with each other during these times, and students hoping to find study groups can still do so in their recitations.

While many professors do not encourage watching class recordings instead of attending actual lessons, many Penn students already do. I haven’t attended my statistics class in person for over a month because I found out I could watch the recording afterwards, saving me the 20 minute walk to class and the extra half hour I shave while watching the recording at 1.5x the speed. Today, looking at a classroom with less than half the seats occupied, I wonder if Penn is using his resources efficiently. If the lessons are made completely asynchronous, my teacher would only need to make one recording for all the lesson sections instead of repeating the same lesson three times for different blocks. Such a policy is not only more convenient for teachers, but also allows Penn to free up more classrooms in order to offer more lessons. While some professors may feel isolated to teach at a distance, they would have time to organize more in-person office sessions with smaller groups, thus generating more productive conversations.

During distance learning, many classes such as computer science were able to enroll a larger number of students as the limited number of places was no longer a problem. Having asynchronous classes after the pandemic would also allow more students to take popular classes that would otherwise be fully enrolled. This would be particularly beneficial as many lectures are foundational requirements for student majors. For example, I was unable to register for the “Introduction to Cognitive Science” course this semester because it was full. Although there were open recitations that fit my schedule, now I have to wait until next year before having the opportunity to take the course. Such a problem is common to many other students and could be easily solved if these classes were asynchronous and there were enough teaching assistants to cope with the increasing number of students.

The pandemic has created many challenges for everyone, but it has also brought about technological innovations like distance learning that are positively shaping our lives. Making large conferences asynchronous should not just be a temporary strategy, but a permanent change for the benefit of the entire school community.

Credit: Ana Glassman


TONY ZHOU is a freshman year at Zhejiang University, China. His email is [email protected].


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