Classroom Tips, Equity & Access, Remote Learning
November 18, 2020

The Great Assessment Debate: Synchronous vs. Asynchronous

Author: Carl Hooker

Teachers and students alike have had to adjust to the “new normal” of remote and hybrid schooling. Assessments make up a large portion of the learning cycle in schools. From end of unit exams to the daily formative check-ins, assessments help both the teacher and their students better understand where they are on their learning journey.

In this blog, we’ll look at various strategies and tools for assessing students remotely.

Defining Terms

According to Merriam-Webster, Assessment is defined as “the action or an instance of making a judgment about something.” By that definition, assessments happen all the time in our lives. We make assessments when we are driving, when having an online argument, or when teaching our students. How we build assessments for students weighs heavily on the following factors:

Googleable vs. Non-Googleable: Creating assessments in the age of Siri, Alexa, and Google mean that any fact-based assessments can be easily copied. When creating assessments, try and mix in some level of opinion, thought, or process to better understand how a student is thinking.

Formative vs. Summative: Formative assessments are like prescriptions from the doctor. They help the students better understand where they are struggling and the teacher better understand which standards to focus on. Summative assessments are more like an autopsy. In that they are usually only helpful after the student has left the grade or semester.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous: These phrases apply to both in-person and remote learning. When it comes to assessment, giving a whole group assessment at the same time vs. a long-term assessment done over time can give you a variety of data to determine student learning.

Pros of Synchronous Assessment

Synchronous assessments range from brief 1-question check-ins to longer summative end of unit assessments. They are generally what we think about whenever we imagine the “traditional” classroom quiz or test. All the students take them at the same time in some form or fashion. Doing assessment this way remotely, means you have to be careful of students quickly searching for answers. You will want to adjust your assessments to have some non-searchable responses built in, or use a tool like Kahoot! or Quizizz so that they have to answer on a timer.

Here are a few pros of giving synchronous assessment:

  • Instant feedback: Students know immediately how they performed with a quizzing app.
  • Adjust instruction based on student responses: As a teacher, you can instantly see weak areas in the standards you are teaching and can adjust your lesson on the fly. 
  • Just-in-time support: Struggling students can get timely support and feedback. 
  • Demonstrating knowledge: These assessments generally give you a snapshot of how well the students know the facts or material.
From end of unit exams to the daily formative check-ins, assessments help both the teacher and their students better understand where they are on their learning journey.

Synchronous Assessment Tools

There are many tools that can help with synchronous assessment. General quizzing tools like Kahoot!, Quizziz, Quizlet, Socrative, and GoFormative can give you instant snapshots of students’ knowledge. Google forms can be made either synchronous or asynchronous depending on teacher expectations. And, a tool like Albert.io can give deeper summative insight using a variety of different answer strategies other than multiple choice and fill-in the blank. 

Pros of Asynchronous Assessment

Classroom instruction shouldn’t always be synchronous. This is true in any environment. A good mix of asynchronous learning in the form of independent or group work widens the range of student learning from the simple fact-based assessments given synchronously. Asynchronous assessments make up a critical component of capturing the whole student and their learning outcomes.

Here’s a few of the pros of using asynchronous assessment in your classroom.

  • Flexible time to process: Rather than having to think and respond on the fly, students have more time to research and process to build their understanding.
  • Not as internet dependent: One of the challenges of giving synchronous assessment is that not every student has the same level of at-home access and may miss parts of a quiz or video call due to connectivity issues. Asynchronous assessments can be done at the student’s pace and are less bandwidth dependent.
  • Built-in reflection time: Research shows that learning is more internalized when students have an opportunity to reflect on what they have done.
  • More focused on the process: Learning is a process more than an end product. Having high-quality asynchronous assessments provide teachers insight on what a student is thinking.
  • Can be collaborative: Unlike most synchronous assessments, you can have group projects scored by a rubric for students to collaborate together on.
  • Help demonstrate understanding more than knowledge: It’s a lot harder to cheat when you have to show how you understand a concept more than just knowing some facts about it.

Asynchronous Assessment Tools

When looking for tools to help with asynchronous assessment, ideally you have tools that provide some sort of insight into the learning process as well as timestamps as to when students responded.

For this reason, many teachers rely heavily on Learning Management Systems (LMS) as a way to have students turn in work and for them to give feedback on that work. Creating these feedback loops help students understand where they need to make improvements on their work and better understand the concept.  Schools deploy a variety of LMS from the free Google Classroom or Microsoft Teams to more robust complicated systems like and Schoology.

Voice, process & feedback

While an LMS can provide opportunities for feedback, it’s largely centered around the assignment, not the student. Finding tools that are focused on the student can help change assessment from the idea of assessment of learning to assessment as learning. It empowers the student to manage their own learning and give their voice to that process. They build in reflection which is an essential part of the experiential learning cycle as defined by Kolb. Brainstorming tools that offer this, give an opportunity for a student to explain and reflect on their thinking, which is key. Tools like Explain Everything and FlipGrid come to mind when focusing on student voice and process around a particular topic or lesson. 

However, I’ve found that the ultimate tool for this is using a digital portfolio tool like, bulb. Rather than focusing on a particular topic or lesson, using a digital portfolio focuses on the student and their growth over time. It empowers them to insert artifacts of their learning journey and to document and reflect on their progress along the way. A digital portfolio provides students with agency, allowing them to take more ownership of their learning and internalize understanding more so than just trying to get an A on a quiz. 

I’ve found that the ultimate tool for this is using a digital portfolio tool like, bulb. Rather than focusing on a particular topic or lesson, using a digital portfolio focuses on the student and their growth over time.

Checklist for remote assessment

As teachers continue to create assessments for their remote and hybrid students, it’s important to have a mix of all of these assessment types in their toolkit. Synchronous assessments can provide that just-in-time feedback to help them adjust instruction on the fly. Asynchronous assessments can empower students through demonstrating their understanding and thinking around a topic or standard. Both have a place in the classroom and both can be powerful allies when trying to paint a picture of the whole student.

Here are some final questions to ponder when creating your assessments in the future:

  • Will the assessment be synchronous or asynchronous?
  • Are you checking for understanding or knowledge?
  • Will students be able to collaborate with each other?
  • Is there an opportunity for students to share artifacts of their learning?
  • Can students reflect on the learning process?
  • Do students have a chance to explain their thinking?

Consider these questions when designing your next assessment and then pick the tool that best allows you to capture their knowledge and understanding going forward.

About the author

Carl Hooker

Carl Hooker is an educational consultant and speaker from Austin, TX. He is a former teacher and administrator and has written 6 books on mobile learning as well as being a National Faculty Member for Future Ready Schools. He hosts two podcasts and has launched an online course called The Remote Learning Coach for schools and districts looking for assistance when it comes to remote and hybrid learning.

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