Asynchronous Elements of Online Courses: What can students do on their own time?

Asynchronous tools can help your students prepare for synchronous sessions, interact, practice and reflect on their understanding, and create space for student interactions.

For information on exams, projects, papers, and other assingments, click here for assessment strategies for the online course.


Organizing your Canvas site helps students find materials and assignments, and focus on the elements that are most central to your course. For ideas on organizing your Canvas course, please visit Organizing your Course for the Online Space.


Individual Student Work

Asynchronous tasks such as quizzes, reading questions, homework problems and questions, and reflections can help students engage course materials.

Viewing and engaging with materials such as readings, videos, images, and websites.

  • Course materials can be directly embedded into Canvas for students. For more information on how to create and share materials such as readings and videos, please refer to Organizing your Course for the Online Space

Surveys and quizzes

  • Canvas Quizzes allow you to add multiple question types including multiple choice, multiple answer, matching, and essay questions. In addition, you have a lot of choices for how the quiz is set up, such as the number of times students can take it and/or time how long they have to complete the quiz. Options for setting up the quiz tool.  Below are a few different quiz types you might utilize:
    • Auto-Graded Quizzes: The quiz tool allows you to ask multiple choice, matching, fill in the blank, and true/false questions. Because you can set the correct answers in advance, the tool can immediately provide students with a numerical score and feedback once they submit the quiz, though you can also choose to delay this feedback until all students have completed the quiz. You can set the quiz to provide students with hints and feedback on both right and wrong answers. You can always override or regrade questions if the tool misses something.
    • Short Answer, Essay, and File Upload Quizzes: You can also use the quiz tool to ask students to write short answers, essays, or upload files (so this means that students can turn in almost anything that can be placed in a file from text to video). You will have to grade these materials yourself, but using Canvas’s rubric tool can help grade a bit more efficiently.
    • Graded or Ungraded Surveys: Canvas includes the option to use ungraded and graded surveys. Both surveys can be made anonymous. Graded surveys allow you to automatically give students points based on participation rather than getting the right answer. This can be useful for getting students to engage in reflection activities as well as for providing students with low stakes practice opportunities. Ungraded surveys are useful for gathering feedback from students about their course experience or other types of information. We used a graded survey for the pre-program survey.

Homework and Problem Solving

  • The best tool for having students submit work to you and/or TAs is Canvas Assignments. It allows students to submit their work as text, file uploads, websites, and/or media uploads and you have the option of having students’ work go through the Turnitin plagiarism checker. Students can also use Canvas Assignments to submit group assignments.
  • For problem solving where handwritten work is required, consider asking students to take a picture of their work for upload to a Canvas assignment. Images of student work can be combined with Canvas Quizzes to assess for both correctness and problem solving process/effort.

Papers, presentations, and other projects.

  • Canvas assignments can also be used for submitting papers and essays, slides, and even video or audio. For more information on assessment such as exams and projects, please refer to Assessments and Exams for Online Courses.


Asynchronous student interaction and collaboration

You may choose to ask students to discuss and collaborate outside of synchronous class time. There are tools and strategies available to promote interaction from short discussions to group projects.

Creating a sense of community can improve asynchronous student discussion and collaboration. For ideas on fostering community in your online space, please look here.


  • Asynchronous discussions. Students can share ideas, ask and answer questions, and post images, links, and files in Canvas Discussions. For information on how to set up a robust online discussion forum, please check our resource here.
  • Collaboratively annotating and analyzing text, images, and videos. Perusall is a free annotation tool linked to your Canvas site that allows students to annotate documents, images, or videos. Students can highlight, add questions and comments, see other student comments, and respond to other students from right within the file. Annotations can also be assigned to smaller groups of students, so that different students can work on different files or analyze files from different perspectives. Click here to learn how to set Perusall to use your Canvas Groups. If desired, Perusall includes an automatic grading algorithm that provides an initial suggested grade for students’ contributions.
  • Collaborative writing, note-taking, and problem-solving. If you would like students to work on a document together, consider using a tool like Collaborations in Canvas, which creates a Google Document within your Canvas site for your whole class or individual groups of students to work on together.  Within a Collaboration, your students can co-create a document, create a repository of information or links, and provide comments or feedback to each other.  To get started with Canvas Collaborations, watch the Canvas Collaborations tutorial video or review the guide on creating Collaboration.
  • Peer review. Canvas includes a built-in peer review option for all assignments, including written work, images, and videos. Students can be automatically or manually assigned work to review, and provide feedback via comments or through a rubric. Note: peer review does not always work as well with Canvas Discussions; for Canvas Discussions, ask students to provide feedback by replying to each others' posts directly.
  • Group work. Students can use any of the above tools in small groups to work together on projects and presentations, or form study groups. To help students communication and collaborate, consider:
    • Canvas Groups: Canvas allows you to manually or automatically create groups in your courses. Any assignment or discussion can then be assigned to a group instead of individual students. 
    • Canvas inbox: Students can contact each other without knowing each others' email addresses using Canvas Inbox. This protects student privacy while allowing for ease of communication. Make sure your students know they can use this tool to reach other students in the class, and how to set their notifications such that they receive Canvas Messages in a timely manner.
    • Canvas Conferences: This option is available directly in Canvas for most schools. While it is not recommended for instructor-led sessions due to its inability to save recordings and poor performance with larger groups, it is ab option to recommend to students for collaborating on group projects and study groups.
    • Other video conferencing software: Students may prefer to use platforms, such as Slack, Skype, and Zoom, that they are already familiar with. You may wish to suggest a few platforms to get students started, while allowing for students to be creative with their communication.
  • SAS only: Multimedia conversations.  VoiceThread is a discussion and communication tool that can be integrated into your Canvas course. It allows students to combine images, video, text, and/or audio to enable multimedia conversations. Using the tool, you and your students can share ideas on top of slides, video, audio, images, and text, reply to each others' posts, and collaborate on products such as class presentations. For more information and to get started, go to Adding VoiceThread to your course.

Want to use a technology not described above?

Contact your instructional technology support team before using an unsupported technology in your teaching, even (or especially) if it is free. All technology used in teaching must protect personally identifiable information and education records of students. See the Policy on Confidentiality of Student Records for more information. Further, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and University policy require technology that you use to teach must accommodate students with disabilities.