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Formative activities - examples of asynchronous tasks

Material used courtesy of Chalmers University of Technology.

Suggestions to meet the need for active learning and classroom assessment techniques in online learning environments

Most of the learning you achieve in campus-based contexts is also possible in online environments. When you change channel, however, most processes take longer and the need to check in with student learning often becomes even more important. How to do that might vary with the intended learning, with the type of content, and with the size of the group. On this page, we focus on asynchronous tasks since it might be effective to allow students time to process without having to be active online in a synchronous activity all the time. We have provided some examples in the table below.

Asynchronous short-term activities that can be used to promote active learning in lectures and seminars

Many of the synchronous activities (Q&As, quizzes, minute papers, muddy points, TPSs, buzz groups) can also be used asynchronously to promote learning prior to an activity of reflection on learning after an activity. Other activities are more limited to the asynchronous mode only.

Type of activity Online tweaks or tools Comments and advice

Various short and well-defined group tasks and discussions.

Can be done in Canvas discussion fora or in Canvas student groups. Other platforms include Padlet.

Choose the platform you prefer, but you might want to limit the number of platforms for students to work with in any one given course or learning sequence.

Preparing for seminars and lectures with the help of study questions (in groups or individually).

Using a platform you prefer (Canvas, Mentimeter) you can provide a questionnaire/ quiz where students can prepare until they get the questions right.

One advantage here is that you can limit access to a lecture or activity in Canvas until preparations have been completed.

Preparing for seminars and lectures by summarizing, commenting or critiquing texts or other resources that are central to the learning activity.  

If you just want this as an individual mode of preparation, then a Canvas assignment is an option. The Canvas quiz/survey function also works well unless you want longer texts. If you want students to discuss their summaries/ commentaries, then a discussion forum is preferable.

This learning activity is hardly affected by the online transition at all. In fact, it almost works better in this mode.

Problem-solving sets.

Choose a platform that you are comfortable with or simply make the task an assignment in Canvas.

You can also, of course, use the problem sets as group tasks and vary the complexity and time spent on task.

Peer review / peer response work.

Use Canvas peer review discussions or peer review assignments or one of the many tools out there.

Peer review activities need to be carefully designed with clear instructions for students (Peer learning). Using rubrics often generates higher quality results than free-text only. Here are a few good guides:
• General guides: WAC Clearinghouse and McGill (pdf).
• How to use rubrics:
Boston College and Carnegie Mellon.
• Example guidelines for students: Canvas

Know – Want to learn - Learn.

Requires little to work. It can be done individually or in groups in Canvas. You can use any quiz software to similar effects at a group level.

This is a common self-regulation technique to guide learning by asking what do we know about this topic; what do we want / need to know; then checking in to see what was learnt from the activity.

Prompted reflection.

The online format is not really a problem. You can set up individual reflection as assignments or surveys in Canvas. If you want students to collaborate, then discussion fora or group assignments or Padlet boards might be good options.

Reflection promotes learning, but students might need some help to structure reflection. You might want to ask specific questions, set scenarios, or give them a model, like the 5R model, to follow.

Concept mapping and flow charts.


Concept maps and flow charts can be effective tools that allow students to explore their understanding of how concepts relate or what processes look like, how components or aspects of a concept or process relate and what level they are at. The concept map and the flow chart can also provide a sense of direction for students to help them decide what they need to study.
Introduction to concept mapping (Carnegie Mellon website)



Page Manager: Olof Siverbo|Last update: 4/28/2020

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