Here we will cover approaches to teaching online asynchronous courses for first-year business students.

DePaul University now has nine modalities that define how a course is taught. These course modalities are described on the Teaching Commons website. There are nine defined modalities. Six of these modalities take place on campus. Three modalities take place fully online.

Those three flavors of online are:

  1. Online Synchronous, or Fully Live. An online synchronous course is one that is taught live – you have to be online at a specific time.
  2. Online Hybrid, or Half Live / Half On Demand. An online hybrid course is one that is taught with an equal mix of live and recorded content. You spend half the time live.
  3. Online Asynchronous, or Fully On Demand. An online asynchronous course is one where you do not need to be online at a specific time or place.

We are talking here about Online Asynchronous courses for first-year business students. Typically, the first question from faculty is “Can I use Zoom in my teaching?” The answer is yes, and we will come to the details later.

So, let us start with the typical first-year experience on campus.

  • An alarm goes off, and the student gets ready to go to campus.
  • The student commutes to the Chicago Loop, typically via the El.
  • The student arrives outside the DePaul Center.
  • Outside the DePaul Center, the student may see faculty, staff, and fellow students coming in and out of the building. They may stop and chat, or wave to people they know.
  • The student will take an elevator to their class, where again they will see fellow students.
  • If there is time before class, the student will chat with their fellow classmates.
  • As class starts, the student will notice the demeanor and behavior of their fellow classmates. They will hear any questions and conversation taking place in the classroom.
  • The student will see and hear what their professor shares in class.
  • The student may choose to chat with their professor during a break.
  • After class, the student may chat with classmates in a café. Or retire to the library, to catch up with email and assignments.

These are experiences that you do not see exactly replicated in an online asynchronous course. There are notable features in the on-campus experience:

  • Inherently social: There are frequent encounters with fellow students. Introductions are made and reinforced.
  • Shared experience: The students are all on a common trajectory. They experience the same things at the same time.
  • Ambient feedback: Students see how fellow students react. Commonalities in understanding and behavior come into play.
  • Scheduled: On-campus classes have a repetitive structure. There are fixed times, and habits form.

Why Students Take Online Courses

Typically, the reasons fall into three categories:

Convenience: The online asynchronous course was the most convenient option.
Only Viable Option: All other courses were full, or there was a clash with timing.
“Easy” Perception: An incorrect assumption from some first-year students is that the online asynchronous course is the easiest study option.

Pre-pandemic, the common experience of a first-year student in an online asynchronous course was that most of their courses that quarter were on-campus face-to-face, and that they took one online course to create efficiencies. The majority of their experiences and behaviors were shaped by being on campus. But during the pandemic everything is online. We don’t have on-campus experiences shaping online student behavior.

Some experiences might be missing. And this has particular impact during the pandemic, where there are fewer ambient cues that orient students as how to best study and acclimatize to university culture. Thus, the role of faculty in building community in their online classes becomes more important.

Here are some suggestions as to how faculty can affect positive behavior.

Explain Asynchronous

The term asynchronous may be unfamiliar to first-year students (and to their parents), so explain what it means. Promote the advantages of this modality. Warn about the negatives of this modality.

Weekly Backward Design

At the start of a weekly module provide an introduction. In the introduction, explain what will be covered that week (and why it is important). Then share the weekly deliverables. Explain when and how these should be submitted (and you can hyperlink to the appropriate submissions folders or discussion boards as you do this). Then share the content and exercises. To help your students allocate time, indicate how long these activities should take.


Our template has a biography page. Editing this page with your information and a photograph will help your students have a stronger understanding of who you are. Better still, embed a video introduction.

Rethink Deadlines

There is little value in scheduling a deadline just before midnight, unless you are planning to grade at midnight. Instead, schedule your assignment deadlines for the time you intend to grade. That way you are ready to respond to last-minute questions as they arrive from your students. Many online courses have deadlines just before midnight on Sundays – moving your deadlines to another day of the week may reduce pressure on student to meet your deadlines.

Office Hours On Zoom

Office Hours via Zoom are definitely something you want to provide for asynchronous online courses, but there are things to consider. Sometimes their presence creates a positive impression, without students having actually using them. In our survey of students, we encountered statements like “I personally didn’t use office hours, but I assume they were very helpful to students.”

Other issues that students raised included:

  • In general, students don’t want other students hearing their personal issues and questions. They prefer to schedule individual appointments.
  • Many students did not like the unstructured format.
  • Many students found the term “office hours” too formal, confusing, and to have negative connotations.
  • For many, the time offered was inconvenient. Doodle polls could help in determining the most convenient time for all.

So, providing the option to schedule an individual Zoom call is highly appreciated by students. To add more value, you can ask if the student wants the session recorded (which can be helpful for review if you are demonstrating how to successfully complete a difficult task).

Zoom Review Sessions

In our surveys, we saw these to be very popular with students who can make the review. Using Doodle to discover most convenient time for all is highly recommended. Weekly sessions at a regular time, 30 minutes in duration, seems to be the sweet spot. Providing time for social/emotional interaction can be extremely helpful to student wellbeing, such as asking each student how they are doing via the participant list. With these sessions we recommend that you only record course review content (social/emotional interaction is best not recorded). You can then share the recordings with the entire class via D2L.


Communication is key to first-year business students. As we have seen, the typical on-ground experiences that help form good student practice are not present. Effective communication from faculty and staff can help address these deficiencies. Foremost are regular emails and news updates. Several emails a week are recommended, and these emails should be duplicated on the D2L newsfeed.

To keep your inbox more manageable, we recommend asking your students to use D2L discussion boards as the place to ask course-related questions. This reduces inbound email and allows students to see what other students are asking.

Students are a little suspicious of graded discussion board exercises that are overly formulaic. However, if you can find the right question you can see interaction blossom in your class.

So, given this adverse reception, what can you do? Look for material in your course that maps against experiences or concepts that are directly important to your students.

Since your students are enrolled in an online asynchronous course, there are fewer opportunities for student-to-student interaction. You can help build community by requiring student interactions via the discussion board. To ensure that this works well, provide a grade for this exercise along with a checklist of tasks that you want completed.

If you are using the discussion board for Q&A, you can provide participation points for students who provide helpful responses.

To enforce a sense of community, you can use weekly surveys to assess how well your students are progressing and enjoying your course. Providing the results of these surveys can help students understand how their responses compare to the rest of the class.

Sample questions that you could ask include:

  • What was the most useful thing that you learnt this week?
  • What was the least useful thing that you learnt this week?
  • Is there anything that you did not understand?
  • Did you experience any technical difficulties?
  • How useful to you were the lecture videos?
  • Is there anything you want to tell me?


Automation can be used to keep you and your students on task.

One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is via D2L’s Intelligent Agents. Here you can create logic that results in you or a student being emailed if a condition is met (or not met). An example of this would be a student being emailed a reminder if they have not logged into the course for several days.

Lastly, a quick response to a question is extremely helpful to keeping students engaged. You can make the process more efficient by keeping boilerplate text in note taking applications like Evernote, OneNote, or Google Keep. This text can then be quickly adapted as you respond to your students.