Author – Lisa Bloom is the Jay M. Robinson Distinguished Professor at Western Carolina University where she has been a member of the faculty since 1989. Her current research interests include using technology to personalize learning environments and to promote creative and critical thinking, problem-based learning, culturally responsive teaching, and the social and emotional well-being of children. She is the author of Classroom Management: Creating Positive Outcomes for All Students published by Pearson, as well as numerous journal articles related to her research interests. She teaches both online and face to face courses in instructional technology, classroom management, and creative and critical thinking.
Navigating Engagement for Online Meetings
I’ve learned through the COVID crisis that I have amazing colleagues at WCU who don’t let a pandemic keep them from prioritizing student learning. Even so, the pandemic has brought some challenges to our instruction. Moving typically face-to-face classes to online and hybrid formats and navigating remote class meetings hasn’t been easy. In August, I sent a survey asking faculty to share their creative ideas and solutions for pandemic instruction as well as their questions and concerns. In addition, a small group of faculty has been meeting weekly to problem solve and share ideas. I want to share a snippet of the strategies that have emerged and invite your input where challenges remain.
Strategies for Negotiating Zoom
Zoom’s Breakout rooms have been a source of frustration for many because of the difficulty with pre-assigning groups. If there’s no need to strategize team membership, the automatic group assignment randomly put students into breakout rooms. However, for pre-assigned groups, if students use the Zoom link, the assignments will disappear.
Some of us became accustomed to sending students links for our zoom rooms. For pre-assignments to function students must log into Zoom with their WCU Zoom account and the meeting id instead of entering through the link for the professor’s Zoom meeting
As an alternative, Dr. Adrienne Stuckey came up with a creative solution. She has students change their user name to start with the letter she assigned based on the breakout room she wants them in. Think Aardvark Nan or Bobcat Derek. In this way, she can arrange students in strategic groupings by quickly transferring all the students that start with A to the A room, B to the B room, and so forth. Providing students with a set of easy to follow directions for changing a Zoom name allows this method of breakout room assignment to work efficiently.
Personally, I’ve found it difficult to monitor a large group of students on Zoom. Faculty have debated whether it is best to ask students to have cameras on or off during Zoom meetings. There are pros and cons to each side. Perhaps if delivering a lecture, cameras off is sufficient. But for active discussion, I found that cameras on as optional added an intolerable level of discomfort. Students were less likely to ask questions and add to the discussion. Hence, I ensured students had a quiet place on campus to access Zoom during our meeting time. I learned that not only were there conducive spots on campus, but a room had also been set aside at my class time for students to access Zoom. With this information, I then asked students to go to one of those locations on campus or an appropriate place in their own apartments and dorms to be ready to have cameras on. What an improvement!
In addition to my new cameras on policy, I asked students to sign up for roles, including class manager and note taker. The manager keeps time, monitors the zoom text chat for questions and comments, and watches for students raising their hands. Hence, I can devote full attention to the discussion and learning activities without the added stress of monitoring the screen. Similarly, a note-taker who uses a shared document to make notes of important points that arise during class discussions allows students to more fully engage rather than diverting attention to their notebooks. Roles rotate so that all students take their turn at each.
Dynamic Instructional Videos
Dr. Candy Noltensmeyer makes instructional videos using her smartphone, laptop connected to her TV, and a circular light. She displays a PowerPoint on the TV screen. The circular light aids with lighting and visibility. The PowerPoint then becomes her backdrop as she uses her smartphone to video herself narrating the PowerPoint. She keeps the narration informal and lively. She loads her instructional videos directly to her You-tube channel for easy student access.
Dr. Niall Michelson uses Numerade. This free online education platform provides access to a wide range of previously recorded lessons and a platform to create videos on any topic.
The tool provides the ability to track student engagement and offer lesson recaps.
Instructors are finding useful tech tools and apps for supplementing and facilitating remote learning. Dr. Kristy Doss uses Microsoft Teams for her students to collaborate on class assignments. She says that Teams “Provides a platform for easy and quick communication, a collaborative place to express opinions and explore ideas that are a tad easier to access and navigate than the Blackboard discussion forums.”
Other tools and strategies for student access and engagement in course content mentioned in the survey include lockbox activities, Zoom jigsaw, case studies, online simulations, home lab kits, home art kits, mini-lecture videos, and mini-quizzes.
For hybrid classes, many faculty such as Dr. Pam Buskey are using the flipped classroom concept where students access and learn content prior to class. Face-to-face time is then used for clarification and discussion. An anonymous survey respondent said, “I have split 3 of my courses into cohorts of 7-8 students, and my 4th course in half. Despite social distancing guidelines, I don’t believe that my classrooms can safely hold 25 students at a time. I will be performing a flipped classroom model, in which my students learn at home asynchronously and come to class to discuss their process, engage in peer feedback, get one-on-one instruction from me, and otherwise engage in an in-person community. Away from class, students will utilize Microsoft Teams for ongoing discussion and peer support.”
Concerns and Lingering Questions
Amongst faculty concerns are students who disengage and do not complete home assignments, keeping ourselves from being overwhelmed, the difficulty of demonstrating clinical skills online, too much screen time for students and faculty, dealing with students who fall ill, and the uncertainty of what spring term will bring.
One of the survey respondents reminds us of the need to take care of our own emotional well-being. Yoga and other exercise options can certainly help. Equally as important to ensure that we all flourish during these difficult times are the camaraderie, and support that comes from engaging with our colleagues. No one has all the answers, yet there are many untapped possibilities and innovative solutions that we can share.
If you are interested in sharing your ideas, solutions, or seeking support or solutions for your concerns, please join the Teaching Innovation Group on Microsoft Teams at https://teams.microsoft.com/l/team/19%3a36a11d49a475436dac08dbbcbc09d05c%40thread.skype/conversations?groupId=4e777b88-66fa-4d31-b002-b9118b09e714&tenantId=c5b35b5a-16d5-4414-8ee1-7bde70543f1b. If you are interested in attending meetings of the Teaching Innovation Group contact Lisa Bloom at Bloom@wcu.edu. I invite you to join one or both options.