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Principles for the Fall Semester

Important Definitions

The university uses the definitions below to denote the differences between online, hybrid, and flipped courses, and asynchronous and synchronous instruction. The Fall 2020 Teaching Modalities section links to critically important information for instructors teaching during the upcoming fall semester.


In an online class, 100% of the course content, activities and assessments are delivered online asynchronously or synchronously, and there is regular and substantive interaction between the instructor and students throughout the semester.

In a hybrid class, 33-99% of the course content, activities and assessments are delivered online asynchronously or synchronously, in-class seat time is reduced and replaced with online instruction and engagement, and there is regular and substantive interaction between the instructor and students throughout the semester.

For example, if you teach a course that is normally scheduled to meet on campus on M-W-F from 10-10:50am and decide to deliver that course as a hybrid, you can choose to have students come to the in-class session on one or two of those days instead of all three. The in-person meeting requirements are scaled back and replaced with online instructional activities that help students move toward achieving the course objectives.

Online asynchronous instruction occurs when the faculty member and the students are in different places and participating at different times. In an asynchronous course, learners complete their coursework and assignments throughout the week and within the parameters of the course syllabus and instructor established deadlines. Asynchronous courses are more flexible for students, allowing them to communicate with the instructor and their classmates anytime, anywhere. This can mitigate many of the access issues learners may face, including the need to fulfill job or family commitments, lack of a strong internet connection, or absence of WiFi enabled devices at home.

There are numerous options available to instructors who wish to deliver content and communicate with students asynchronously, including discussion forums, blogs, wikis, and email. UTK’s learning management system, Canvas, provides access to many of these tools, including Canvas Studio, a way for instructors and students to actively collaborate in an asynchronous setting through multimedia.

Online synchronous instruction occurs when the faculty member and the students are in different places, but participating at the same time. In a synchronous class students participate during specified days and times each week throughout the term. Synchronous courses are delivered primarily through Zoom, the university supported audio video conferencing tool. Additional tools for synchronous communication include Google Hangout, Microsoft Teams, and the chat features in Zoom and Canvas.

Synchronous teaching allows an instructor to more closely replicate the in-person experience of lecture and seminar courses with real-time discussion and engagement with students. However, this option requires more technology and is less accessible to learners who may live in areas with limited access to high speed internet, in time zones other than Eastern Standard, or in houses with multiple people all trying to access the network at similar times. Instructors are encouraged to consider this when determining how portions of an online course will be delivered.

Flipped is another term often used in conjunction with technology supported teaching and learning. According to Educause (2012), a flipped class is a “pedagogical model in which the typical lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed. Short video lectures are viewed by students at home before the class session, while in-class time is devoted to exercises, projects, or discussions.” (7 Things You Should Know About Flipped Classrooms, 2012).

An important distinction between a hybrid and flipped class is that in a hybrid course the amount of time students spend in the physical classroom is reduced, while in a flipped course the amount of time students spend in the physical classroom does not change.

  • Visit the University Registrar’s Office to see details about the fall 2020 teaching modalities.
  • OIT’s Technology and Teaching Modalities page offers a wealth of information for instructors about teaching modalities in the fall, including fully online, hybrid, synchronous simulcast, alternating weekly lab, and fully face to face.