Looking for some new ideas for classroom discussion?
Seeking an idea for an online discussion?
What about a guide for setting norms/expectations related to discussion practices?
We have identified some resources to help you think through these questions.
Tips for the new teacher
Are you unsure of the role that discussion should play in your class? This guide by the University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Teaching and Learning, Guidelines for Classroom Interactions, frames the discussion, first and foremost, as an exercise in knowing how your course goals align to the discussion as a lens for knowing and learning.
Classroom teachers looking for a quick, digital resource, the IDEA paper Effective Classroom Discussions covers expectation-setting, teacher roles, and student roles, in an attractive and chunked layout. Useful when planning for a future course.
Tips for the online teacher
If you teach online and are looking for ideas on how to maximize engagement in online discussions, Kreiger, Lee, and Zolkover, instructional designers at Penn State, recently presented on this topic at the 2021 CanvasCon conference. In their presentation Change the Prompt, Not the Tool: Developing Effective Discussions, they share information for new online teachers. They suggest that faculty write out their responses to these 5 steps, prior to posting them to the LMS:
- What is the context? Why are you asking them to respond?
- How does it fit? Write an explanation for how the assignment fits into the course.
- How should they proceed? Write out, 1-2-3, what they are to do. Since online students typically have to wait longer for a response, they advise that you “build in” the help. See the course from their eyes.
- Clarify grading. Provide some clarity on how they are graded, and remember that in Canvas, discussions can be high-stakes (with a point value or rubric) or low-stakes (with a complete/incomplete checkmark).
- Scaffold the responses. Let them know how the response “flow” should work. Are you wanting them to respond to others? (remember that this can require students to log in frequently, just to see if a response has been posted). Or do you want a rotating moderator to collect all responses, and summarize and present those to the class?
All of this information, now typed and on-screen, is tidy and structured for copy-paste into the Canvas LMS discussion rich content editor – so students will then know the big picture, and all the details, associated with the discussion.
Another helpful resource is the book Engaging the Online Learner by Rita-Marie Conrad and J. Ana Donaldson. The book frames the discussion as a small component of online engagement. Faculty will enjoy the foundational frame and theory the authors provide (constructivist and problem-based). You will not only see online classes in a new light but you will also be provided dozens of discussion-based activities and icebreakers that stem from the theory. Grab and use! One of our favorite texts!. The library has a copy; you can search for the call numbers here.
Tips for facilitating challenging classroom conversations
Many university teaching and learning centers provide guidance for handling challenging or controversial subjects. One of our favorites is the tips provided by Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching, Difficult Dialogues, as they don’t just discuss procedures for handling the challenging topic (helpful as that is). Rather, following a discussion they integrate activities for gauging student understanding that is writing- and reflection-based.
In summary, there are a lot of resources to help inspire new and innovative ideas and thinking for both the new and experienced instructor, whether teaching face-to-face or online.
Conrad, R. M., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction (Vol. 38). John Wiley & Sons.
Lee, L., Krieger, J. M., and Adam D. Zolkover. (2021). L. Change the Prompt, Not the Tool: Developing Effective Discussions. [Video]. InstructureCon. https://www.instructure.com/canvas/resources/instructurecon-2021/change-the-prompt-not-the-tool-developing-effective-discussions#main-content
WCU does not have a tool that will translate Word documents into Canvas Quizzes, and we do not have the resources to create or manually transcribe any assessments for instructors.
We recommend and fully support instructors authoring their tests/quizzes/exams inside of Canvas. Canvas questions are edited through the rich content editor, which allows for cut and paste actions from Word documents and other word processing files on a question-by-question basis. Below are links to several resources for creating questions in Canvas.
If an instructor would like assistance in creating an assessment, from a pedagogical perspective, they can make an appointment with one of the faculty partners at the CFC for a consultation. (https://affiliate.wcu.edu/cfc/consultations/)
Quiz Question Creation Guides
- Create a Multiple-Choice Question – Link
- Create a True/False Question – Link
- Create a Fill-in-the-Blank Question – Link
- Create a Fill-in-Multiple-Blanks Question – Link
- Create a Multiple Answers Question – Link
- Create a Multiple Drop-down Question – Link
- Create a Matching Question – Link
- Create a Numerical Answer Question – Link
- Create a Formula (Simple Formula) Question – Link
- Create a Formula (Single Variable) Question – Link
- Create an Essay Question – Link
- Create a File Upload Question – Link
The Coulter Faculty Commons often entertains questions throughout the summer about ideas for fall teaching. Here, we share some of those commonly asked questions and our responses.
Q. Can a shift in the syllabus verbiage encourage a better learning environment?
A. Ken Bain, who conceptualized the term “the promising syllabus,” argues yes, in his book What the Best College Teachers Do. You can find an excerpt – and strategies for incorporating self-determination theory into a course, visual design elements, and more, on the Montclair State University website. You can find his book in the WCU library.
Q. What can I do in the first week of class to keep my students engaged all semester?
A. A professor from the University of New Mexico, Gary Smith, has shared a strategy he used on the first day, after many years of feeling his students were only learning at a surface level.
On the first day of class, he asked his students the following question: “I’d like you to think about your college education and this course in particular. Which of the following is most important to you?
1. Acquiring information (facts, principles, concepts)?
2. Learning how to use information and knowledge in new situations? or…
3. Developing lifelong learning skills?
He writes about the back-and-forth negotiation – and the wonderful outcome it had on his students and his course – in an article entitled First-Day Questions for the Learner-Centered Classroom (Smith, 2008). A highly recommended reading!
Q. Am I required to use the WCU syllabus template?
A. The WCU syllabus template has been offered for many years as a single document/place where institutional policies are maintained and updated.
Q. Is there anything new in the WCU syllabus template for fall 2020?
A. Yes, and they have been substantial. Over the past few months, the Coulter Faculty Commons has been steadily making changes to the university syllabus, based on the impacts brought about by COVID. In May, we included a statement about the use of Respondus Lockdown Browser and Lockdown Monitor, including instructions for students to download the software. In June, we provided the university statement on the wearing of masks (this was revised again in August to include faculty processes when students are non-compliant). In August, we also published an update to the Course Recording and Broadcasting sub-section. The two major changes are 1) the need for faculty to obtain student waivers (to adhere to FERPA), 2) the particular need for waivers if faculty intend to use a video for a governed research project (outside normal class use case), and 3) language in a faculty syllabus if they intend to use Lockdown Browser or Lockdown Monitor.
Q. Have there been recent changes to the CFC Syllabus webpage?
A. Yes. In early August, we added a MWF and TR calendar document for faculty to use and distribute to their students. These are for fall 2020. We also added a link to Rice University’s Course Workload Estimator tool, to help faculty allocate hours and minutes to each activity, assignment, or lecture in an assigned week for a course in development (note: this tool is useful at any week in the term, for what lies ahead in a class). Due to the shift in online and remote teaching, we have had a lot of questions about “how much work is too much?” This tool helps you decide.
Q. Do I need to include all the institutional policies in my syllabus?
A. As stated above, if your syllabus includes a statement pointing to the Academic Toolbox, then you do not need to include those statements in your syllabus.
Q. What technology will be available in my classroom?
A. Upgraded Audio Features in Standard Classrooms
The Instructional Technology Team has been hard at work all summer trying to meet as many of the unprecedented needs of this coming fall as possible. The CFC wanted to highlight a few things for faculty who are just returning to the university to teach hybrid courses.
As part of the preparations for hybrid teaching in WCU classrooms, additional audio connectivity was installed to allow for the use of a personal microphone, as well as to assist in the use of common software tools using the classroom audio system.
These enhancements include:
- Expansion of the feed from the existing wireless lapel microphone to feed into audio recordings in Zoom and Panopto.
- A Standard XLR Microphone Connection
- Handheld XLR Microphones that are being distributed to the departments by the Provost’s office
For more information
The Instructional Technology Team and the Help Desk will have technicians available during the first two weeks of classes to troubleshoot issues.
Q. If I choose to record my classes, what responsibilities do I have? Can students record me without my permission?
Students may make visual or audio recordings (Recording) of any class related content, using any approved recording device (e.g., smart phone, computer, digital recorder, etc.) upon the prior permission of the instructor and subject to the following restriction(s). The Recording, along with the video capture of visible course materials (e.g., visible PowerPoint slides and/or visible lecture notes), shall be limited to the student’s personal, course related, educational use and shall be subject to all applicable copyright laws and institutional policies. The student may not transfer, transmit, or otherwise disseminate the Recording to any third party, including classmates, without the permission of the instructor. Any violation of these restrictions, or any other restriction verbally communicated by the instructor, may subject the student to the provisions of the WCU Academic Integrity Policy, the WCU Code of Student Conduct or both.
Meetings of this course may be broadcast and/or recorded. Broadcasting and recording are intended to complement the classroom experience. Instructors may broadcast and/or record courses for pedagogical use, student reference, to meet the accommodation needs of students with a documented disability, or any other reason deemed appropriate by WCU and/or the instructor.
Any recording of class that includes the image or voice of a student, or reference to the student’s name, would be considered FERPA, thus, protected. If faculty intend on making the recording available for future viewing (any viewing that is not live),it will require a waiver by each student. The waivers may be collected by email or as a Canvas discussion board post or assignment with the following statement attached: By sending this email (by replying to this discussion board, by completing this electronic form – any use of WCU official identity verification) and typing my name below I acknowledge I have read and fully understand the terms of the VIDEO CONSENT AND RELEASE FORM FOR CLASS RECORDING and hereby release the University as stated in the Form.
If a student refuses to sign the waiver, then their likeness may not be included in any video made available. In other words, they would need to be excluded from video and not allowed to ask questions. If this happens faculty would be able to grade consistent with syllabi. In other words, the faculty member has the right to penalize the student by lowering their grade for not participating. The faculty member is also free to create alternative assignments at his or her discretion.
Course recordings will be available to students registered for the course pursuant to applicable university policy and instructor preference. All broadcasts and recordings are limited to personal, course related, educational use and may not be transmitted, transferred, distributed, sold, or posted on social media outlets without the written permission of the instructor. Unauthorized transmission, transfer, distribution, sale or posting of the broadcast and/or recording for any purpose other than the student’s personal, course related, educational use is not permitted. Students are expected to follow appropriate university policies and maintain the security of passwords used to access recorded materials.
If the Lockdown Browser and Monitor are being used, it is necessary that the instructor have both a syllabus statement and a waiver on file.
Any course recordings for purposes beyond the normal conduct of a course (promotional videos, videos related to a governed research project, etc.) will require an additional waiver and appropriate approval (such as IRB approval).
University Policy 122
For a more detailed version of when a waiver might be needed see:
Policy Considerations of Classroom Technology Use
Q. What are the supported synchronous streaming platforms?
Zoom. There is limited support for Microsoft Teams, but it is not recommended for virtual course meetings beyond small groups at this time.
For more information see the Guidelines for Technology Use at WCU
Q. I’ve heard that the CFC isn’t recommending synchronous meetings with students physically present and at a distance? Why is that?
Research and experience guide us to note that trying to hold class with a small group while trying to moderate interaction with students at a distance will lead to an inferior experience for everyone, including the instructor. There are advantages and disadvantages to using synchronous and asynchronous activities in online and hybrid learning; in most cases, asynchronous activities provide the best experiences for students. In our testing scenarios, attempts at synchronous activities using Zoom or Collaborate resulted in less-than-desired experiences, and were not comparable to using Zoom in a private meeting space.
We must recognize that mixing one group with synchronous digital technologies and one group with live synchronous meeting will increase both instructor and student difficulty (i.e., just turning on Zoom for the half of the class who isn’t physically in the classroom).
Consider whether your arrangements and the limitations of the technologies are equitable for all students.Particularly consider whether your activities are appropriate given the computer requirements for students in the university and in your department. Consider the student experience, including their access (or lack thereof) to sufficient broadband speeds.
The Coulter Faculty Commons is offering three new sections of its Fall Planning Workshop (“Fall Blend”), intended to help faculty walk through design, delivery, and technology considerations for fall teaching. A workshop will be offered each week until the beginning of fall courses, following a Tuesday – Thursday format:
- July 28 – 30
- August 4 – 6
- August 11 – 13
Faculty will begin each day in a Zoom session with other participating faculty, prior to joining their small cohorts in breakout style sessions. In the breakout groups, emphasis will be provided on helping faculty work through their own unique teaching challenges and situations. Daily goals will be set by the faculty member, with a check-in late in the day. An educational technology or educational developer from the CFC will facilitate each group, bringing unity to common themes and concerns. Faculty will spend independent time between the two Zoom sessions, developing a holistic plan or working on digitizing lessons. Two live technology sessions will be hosted by the Educational Technology team in the CFC late in the week.
Faculty may sign up through an Office365 registration form.
Note: the total time commitment requires 4-5 hours each day.
Faculty will receive the following information the week prior to their workshop start date:
- A digital workbook on blended learning
- “Save the Date” times for the daily live sessions
- Dates for the live “technology and course design” sessions with CFC educational technology staff
- Video content showing how to digitize and deliver instructional content in Panopto and the LMS
- Organizational/planning sheets to facilitate transfer of F2F teaching to digital teaching