Should Asynchronous Wednesdays Continue Post-COVID?

Due to practical concerns and potential social and academic benefits, administrators have included Wednesday as a day of asynchronous learning in GDS’ virtual and hybrid school schedules. But should GDS continue to have Wednesdays free of classes once school resumes fully in person? While Ninth Grade Dean Abe Pachikara, Assistant Principal for Academics Chris Levy and GDS students recognize the benefits of the current schedule, the learning challenges, including not being able to cover enough content, make clear asynchronous Wednesday will not continue post-pandemic, at least not in its current form.

According to Pachikara, the current schedule was developed to provide time for deep cleaning in a HyFlex model, allowing students to attend some classes in person. While asynchronous learning might make sense during the pandemic, there are many significant challenges and problems with maintaining the asynchronous schedule, including the fundamental issue of having less time for students to learn. “Teachers have less time to give instruction,” Pachikara said. “There’s less time for us to give material to cover a subject area.”

According to Levy, “we aren’t covering the same amount of material. [The asynchronous schedule has] really forced teachers to be more strategic in terms of looking at the curriculum and presenting more of the essential stuff.”

As Levy and Pachikara both brought up, because teachers are forced to forgo some material, they have more time to teach important content in greater depth. But at the same time, valuable aspects of in-person school are lost. Tangential teaching styles, long class discussions and science labs are no longer supported to the same extent. “I don’t think it’s fun just to teach the essential stuff,” Levy said. “There’s more to the academic experience than just sticking to the basic framework of things.”

In addition, Pachikara mentioned that asynchronous learning may be a detriment to less-organized students, as managing an asynchronous component to the school week requires good time management skills.

On the other hand, potential social and academic benefits include allowing students to catch up on work, have a break from technology and take care of personal commitments.

Freshman Georgia Maur-Batsaki said she really likes asynchronous learning and uses Wednesdays to relax and catch up on homework. “As far as I know, all my friends like it, we all benefit from it and we all use it to stay on top of our workload.”

Moreover, Pachikara added that asynchronous learning allows more time to implement programming, such as assemblies, into students’ schedules. “It’s good to have this day which is flexible. We can do cool things—bring people to talk.”

Levy mentioned also that asynchronous learning allows students to meet with teachers and tutors and get more work done. “And it was also a good way to keep things somewhat balanced,” he added, referring to the number of times each class meets during the week. “We felt like it just gave us better flexibility and consistency at the same time.”

Because the idea of asynchronous learning is relatively new and was introduced into the mainstream because of the inception of this pandemic, there is no conclusive evidence on its benefits. However, minor studies dating back to 2006 indicate the potential academic value of asynchronous learning. The studies specifically focus on hybrid learning and implementing asynchronous days into a traditional in-person schedule.

Recent commentary from online-learning and educator-led companies and organizations, including Schoology and Educause, provide support for asynchronous learning. These groups believe it is more convenient for students—particularly those who live farther away from school. Additionally, they believe it helps facilitate individualized learning, benefiting students who need help to catch up academically without slowing down the rest of the class and helping students with learning disabilities by allowing time for them to receive specialized attention.

The flexibility of an asynchronous schedule has also been noted by educator-led groups, as it enables students to work at their own pace, allows them time to pursue extracurricular activities and makes it easier to balance athletic, family and/or job-related commitments with schoolwork. Furthermore, companies and organizations advocating for virtual learning have noted that asynchronous learning can help motivate students and relieve some stress, resulting in their working harder during synchronous school days.

Taking the benefits and challenges into consideration, is continuing with the current schedule after the pandemic ends a possibility? According to Levy, the answer is no. After the pandemic is over, Levy said, “we would return to the five-day rotation within the schedule.”

However, some aspects of virtual learning may see more permanent implementation at GDS going forward. Pachikara, in particular, seemed open to the idea of keeping a variation of the current Wednesday schedule. “I think there’s some benefit to it,” he said of asynchronous learning, adding that it would need to be done in conjunction with the whole school, in person, with teachers on board and in a more structured environment.

Maur-Batsaki suggested that she would like to at least have an earlier school dismissal. She spoke as well about other aspects of virtual learning that she would like to see continued after the pandemic ends. “I like some of the ways teachers have been teaching,” she said, mentioning how her biology teacher, Vinay Mallikaarjun, annotates on Zoom and shares his screen during class. “Although I think when we go back to school fully in person, I’ll definitely be looking forward to less time on a screen,” she said.

While the post-COVID-19 future of the GDS high school schedule is uncertain, it is clear that students, teachers, and administrators are all acquiring valuable information that will inform what is implemented in the future. As Levy put it, “How are we using these trying times as an opportunity to evolve what we do?”