FAQ: Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Enrollment in Biochem 301 Spring 2021

The terms synchronous and asynchronous might not have been very well known outside of computing circles until this last year, but they are now everywhere at Duke, borrowed into the coronavirus academic lexicon as descriptions for classes that meet online. The former refers to classes that meet interactively in real time; the latter to courses that are recorded and available to watch on one’s own schedule. For Spring 2021 (as previously in Fall 2020), Biochem 301 has been set up in DukeHub with both synchronous and asynchronous course sections. Here are some frequently asked questions about these two sections.

Are the two sections two separate classes that work in different ways?

No. In fact, there’s only one Biochem 301 class. Class meetings happen MWF on Zoom, and all students enrolled in Biochem 301 have access to the Zoom link; all enrolled students are welcome to connect to the live class session and participate. In addition, all classes are recorded, and the recordings are available to all students enrolled in Biochem 301. Finally, though there are participation and discussion opportunities during the live class meetings, none of these are graded, so students who watch classes later are not penalized for doing so.

Thus all students enrolled in Biochem 301, regardless of section, have the option to treat the class as synchronous or to treat it as asynchronous, and change that choice at any time during the semester. Students can participate synchronously some days of the week and watch recordings for classes on other days, or can participate synchronously some weeks and watch recordings during other weeks. Students enrolled in the asynchronous section can choose to attend all of the live classes, and students in the synchronous can choose never to attend the live class. All options are open, regardless of section.

If there’s only one class, then why have two sections?

The Registrar does not allow students to register for two synchronous classes happening at the same time, so if another synchronous class conflicts with Biochem 301, the student cannot enroll in both the other class and the synchronous section of Biochem 301. For that reason, we decided to offer an asynchronous enrollment option for Biochem 301. Students with schedule conflicts can choose the asynchronous section, allowing enrollment and participation in both courses.

If I want or need the option of missing the live class and watching a recording later, do I need to enroll in the asynchronous section?

No. Students in the synchronous section also have access to the recordings, and also have freedom to watch recordings rather than attend the live class. The only people who must enroll in the asynchronous section are those with class schedule conflicts.

If I want the opportunity to be part of the live class some of the time, must I enroll in the synchronous section?

No. Students in the asynchronous section also have access to the Zoom links for live class participation, and have the freedom to attend the live class any time they would like.

If I have the choice, is it better to participate synchronously, or to watch recordings later?

We always strongly recommend synchronous participation if possible. There are several reasons for this:

  • The live classes will offer opportunities for discussion, which can help you to learn the subject better.
  • The live classes offer the opportunity to ask questions and get immediate answers.
  • The live class is a community: a group of people meeting together at the same time, having live conversation. During this strange time, students tell us that being part of a real classroom community can be very meaningful.
  • A commitment to watching live classes is also a commitment to keeping up. The opportunity to delay class can lead to falling behind and struggling to catch up.

Many students find it helpful to participate synchronously in the live class, and then to go back and asynchronously watch portions of the recordings later to clarify difficult concepts. If your schedule allows this, it’s probably the best way to engage with the course.

If I have a conflict for only one or two days of the week, should I connect to the synchronous class on the other day(s)?

We recommend connecting to the live class whenever possible. If your schedule allows you to connect to the live class on some days but not all days, we recommend connecting on the days that allow it.

If I don’t have a class schedule conflict, but rather some other kind of schedule conflict, like lab research or a job, do I need to register for the asynchronous section?

No. If you have a non-academic commitment that conflicts with class, you can enroll in the synchronous class, and on the days when you have a conflict you are free to watch recordings rather than connecting in real time. Only academic class schedule conflicts necessitate registration in the asynchronous section.

If I must watch the class meetings after the fact, will I be missing out on any aspects of the class? Will it hurt my grade?

Participation in the live class meetings is not graded, so it won’t hurt your grade in any way if you watch recordings rather than connecting in real time. However, live class attendance can help you learn the subject better and can help you keep up, and those factors sometimes make a difference in student grades.

In Fall 2020, a number of extra credit opportunities were offered that involved group presentations to the class during live class meetings. These will likely continue to be part of the Spring 2021 class. However, students with conflicts could still be part of these projects by helping in the preparation of the presentations, so students with conflicts were not at a disadvantage.

What if a student cannot ever attend the live class session and must always watch recordings? Will there be any opportunities for discussion? For meeting other students? For getting help? For meeting the course instructor and staff?

The answer to all of the above is yes!  Even if a student must always experience the class asynchronously, there will still be opportunities to connect with other students and with the course staff.

In conjunction with the Academic Resource Center’s SAGE program, we will be setting up small groups called “learning communities” that will meet synchronously online once a week at mutually convenient times for review, problem-solving, and discussion. These sessions will be led by peer facilitators, undergraduates who have already completed Biochem 301. These communities will be available to all students, including those who never connect in real time to the main class meetings. These small groups will offer the opportunity to get to know other students in the class, to talk about the material, and to discuss learning and problem-solving strategies.

We will also be offering weekly Zoom office hours online with both the instructor and the graduate TAs. All enrolled students are welcome to come to virtual office hours.

Finally, there will be an online course discussion forum where students can post written questions and answers about course material.

Why does the asynchronous section require a permission number, while the synchronous does not?

We believe that synchronous participation is, for most students, the better choice, and to emphasize that we have made the synchronous section the main section, available without a permission number.

Asynchronous learning can be more challenging in several ways (a potential lack of community, reduced opportunities for discussion, the risk of falling behind) and for that reason we want all students choosing that route to be informed before doing so. Students who understand the choice and would like to enroll in the asynchronous section should email to get a permission number.

In which section should I enroll?

If you have an academic course scheduling conflict between Biochem 301 and another synchronous class, request permission to enroll in the asynchronous section. In all other cases, including non-academic schedule conflicts, choose the synchronous section.