Tools and Tips for Engaging Students with Asynchronous Discussions

I have been wondering something about everyone else since we have begun social distancing. Like many others, I am working from home. I have found that I am busier now than I was before the coronavirus. Is this true for you?

It seems that writing e-mails and being able to use Zoom has encouraged people to have more meetings. I have been talking to my acquaintances and students. Part of the change stems from us needing to prove our productivity. When we were visible at work, it was evident that work was being done.

Another aspect of the change is that people need to converse and feel close when we are not near each other. It is our way of staying close, even though there is a void between us. It is refreshing to see the faces of our students and colleagues.

In any case, I have been attending a lot of meetings and trying to work in a little professional development. My current schedule highlights how it is difficult for people to meet at the same time. When I can attend a webinar, I find that several distractions can interfere with my learning experience.

For example, the Internet is slower now because more people are online. There are times that I cannot hear what the speaker is saying when the speaker freezes due to a slow connection. Because of my experiences, I create asynchronous activities to let students learn at their own pace and repeat the parts of presentations that they need to hear again.

Furthermore, I find that asynchronous learning works better for short tutorials and presenting background knowledge. I introduce my topic and use a guiding question to complete a discussion. The discussion of the subject can either be answered asynchronously or synchronously. Both methods facilitate organic conversations. Students may not know that they have an inquiry until they hear someone else propose a topic.

Four Great Tools

Here are some tools that are good for asynchronous lessons. Yes, some of them are older. But they are also tried and true. You should try them if you have not seen them before.  I include some of my tips for asynchronous discussions too.

VoiceThread: VoiceThread records conversations in the cloud. I like VoiceThread because responses can be audio-only, a video with audio, or text. When I am done with a topic, I frequently download the discussions and share them with the class.

FlipGrid: I have found FlipGrid to be fun and intuitive to use. I rarely have a person express difficulty with sharing a video for a response. I start with an uploaded video to introduce the topic.

Padlet: I use Padlets at the beginning of presentations to introduce discussion questions. Prompts are placed at the top of the pages. Then I move them further down the page when they are complete. Teachers can add a variety of materials such as videos, text, and links. Try asking your audience to record a video and share it.

NearPod: NearPod isn’t just for students. You can also use it with your faculty. You can embed polls, questions, and written responses into NearPod lessons. (While FlipGrid, Padlet, and VoiceThread can be used asynchronously for free, Nearpod is a paid service if it is used asynchronously.)

Additional Tips

Simplify Your Process

I do not like to complicate my life. I will continue to use a tool when I observe that my students enjoy using it. I avoid incorporating too many tools during the school year because it can be overwhelming for students and myself. I am more likely to use a tool that does not require a lot of directions. Teaching a new tool is a time investment, and switching to something new should be done cautiously.

Embrace Suggestions

I have noticed that many students are not comfortable with learning online. Therefore, they should be asked about their well-being. I do periodic checks to determine if the tools and the lessons that I am trying to communicate are working. For instance, while you get accustomed to distance learning, you can ask students and teachers which apps and websites they like the most. I use Qualtrics to gather feedback. Survey Monkey and Google Forms are great choices too.

Provide Alternatives

I like to use videos. I know that some of my students may have disabilities that are not brought to my attention. Therefore, I try to use Universal Design for Learning principles. At the least, when I offer a video, I include captions or a script. Zoom automatically creates voice-to-text translations. YouTube does as well.

Use Security Features

My asynchronous discussions often reference a short video. Videos with interviews and small panels can be pre-recorded. Lately, I have been using Zoom for my meetings. I only share links that are not password protected with people that I know. If I must share a link with anonymous attendees, I set the chat room to mute everyone when they arrive and disable the cameras. I turn them on for people that I trust. It is always a good practice to add a password. I often use a waiting room, and I am considering closing off sessions once they have started.

Additionally, security features are available for Padlet, VoiceThread, NearPod, and FlipGrid. These applications can be password protected. Make them accessible to an exclusive audience when it is time to post information on them. After discussions, VoiceThreads can be downloaded as videos, and Padlets can be converted to PDFs.

The last thing that I will say is that I don’t feel as pressured to be perfect when my discussions are asynchronous. At times synchronous discussions can be more appropriate. Still, carefully planned asynchronous interactions assist me with avoiding spontaneous technology mishaps. When there is flexibility, I enjoy asynchronous discussions.

I hope that these tips will help you to remix your discussion techniques. There is limited professional development available for June. Check out the links below.


June 2020 Professional Development Schedule

Organization Date & Time

Professional Development Title June 2, 2020 – 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm EST Tier 1 Social, Emotional and Behavioral Supports to Restart Learning During a Crisis
June 4, 2020 – 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm EST Fundamentals of Literacy Instruction & Assessment, Pre-K–6
June 8, 2020 – 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm EST Digital Equity Strategies for Learning Beyond the Classroom
June 9, 2020 – 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm EST Bringing Students Back to the Page: Using Digital Resources to Accelerate Learning
June 18, 2020 – 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm EST Articulating a Plan for Addressing Interrupted Learning: Best Teacher Practices for Back-to-School 2020
Info2Go! June 15, 2020 – 12:30 pm – 1:20 pm MST Neurodiversity in the Library
TeachersFirst June 2, 2020 – 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm CST Tech Integration Made Easy with Edpuzzle
Education Week June 4, 2020 – 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm EST Slow the Summer Reading Slide with School & Library Partnerships



Author: Daniella Smith

Daniella Smith, PhD. is a former school and public librarian. She is currently the Hazel Harvey Peace Professor in Children’s Library Services at the University of North Texas.

Categories: Blog Topics, Professional Development, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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1 reply

  1. A couple more tools for asynchronous discussion are Google Classroom and Parlay. Once a student responds to a teacher created post in Google Classroom, they will see all students’ responses and can then add threaded comments. Students also have the option of adding items to their post to share with others and gather feedback See tutorial is a tool specifically created for virtual discussions and socratic seminar.

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