This fall, ASU launched the pilot phase of its ASU Sync degree program, currently offering four graduate degrees and three undergraduate degrees through the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College that can be completed through remote learning delivered synchronously.
While it is currently in the pilot phase, only a select few degree programs are available to be completed via ASU Sync. Outside of the the Teachers College, only two other degrees are being offered in the ASU Sync format: masters of social work, which is only partially available through ASU Sync, and masters in business analytics, which is also offered in person.
According to the University Provost website, ASU Sync, which is separate from ASU Online, provides students with "technology-enhanced, fully interactive remote learning using live lectures via Zoom." The program was used last school year to accommodate COVID-19 precautions.
The pandemic gave ASU the opportunity to explore synchronous remote learning further and "experiment with synchronous distance education," said Anne Jones, vice provost for undergraduate education.
Jones said staff and faculty from all over the University met frequently this past spring in order to determine what programs would be most appropriate for a synchronous remote environment.
"A lot of students in those degree programs are full-time teachers or they're completing full-time internship opportunities in schools, so the barrier to attending classes in person is challenging," Jones said. "The faculty (from the Teachers College) really felt like there was a need for synchronous instruction."
Because of the interactive nature of an education degree, some faculty at the Teachers College were hesitant to embrace the change. Tera McDonald, an instructor for graduate classes at the Teachers College, said she and her colleagues often discussed the change and how they would react.
"I will be honest, I loved face-to-face teaching and was apprehensive to teach in the Sync modality," McDonald said. "I had many colleagues ask, 'What are you going to do when we go online?' I responded, 'I will embrace the change and figure out how to bring the humanity of the profession to a Sync model.' I feared I would miss the connection I made with students by not sharing a face-to-face space with them."
Despite hesitance for the Sync learning model, she has now accepted and embraced the change.
"I am able to unite students and form collaboration in breakout rooms that allow us to share ideas and inspire one another in the classroom," McDonald said. "There is power in everyone seeing each other and realizing we are all in this together and we are going to reach our goals. The personal connection is still attainable."
Patricia Norman, a graduate student studying elementary education, said she enjoys the format because it relieves the awkwardness of silent group work.
"I love Sync in breakout rooms. Everyone has to talk and we learn through talking and listening," Norman said in an email. "Whereas in face-to-face, you have the option to be silent in group work."
While some students utilizing the ASU Sync degree programs in the Teachers College see the benefits in the format, others believe that it lacks certain aspects of learning.
"Preservice teachers would benefit from face-to-face learning, in order to watch the teaching styles used by professors," Jill Judah, a graduate student studying elementary education, said in an email.
While the select graduate programs can be offered completely through ASU Sync, the three undergraduate degrees were harder to format into an ASU Sync degree because of the general studies requirements for students. Only the third and fourth years are offered as ASU Sync, while the first and second years must be taken in person.
"I often communicate with faculty or program leads to assess the Sync programs, to make sure the students are still learning as effectively as they were in their campus immersion course," Jones said.
Jones said the University has plans to expand the selection of ASU Sync degree programs in the future, and that working groups are observing the current pilot program to ask other colleges to start offering ASU Sync degrees.
While students and faculty alike continue to monitor the effectiveness of ASU Sync degrees, McDonald said she advises students to embrace the change from in-person to synchronous remote learning.
"ASU Teachers College is a foundation that will give you a solid teaching foundation to inspire students in the classroom for years to come," McDonald said. "We need great teachers and we have the program that will help you become the teacher you wish to be."
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