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
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.
Coulter Faculty Commons facilitating a mid-semester course analysis with students.
Faculty may now schedule Coulter Faculty Commons staff for a mid-semester course analysis for a fall course.
The Quick Course Diagnosis (QCD) takes about 20 minutes and helps faculty better understand challenges their students are facing with content, pacing, performance, and student behavior.
All fall 2020 QCDs will be conducted during a regularly scheduled class time which occurs in any video-conferencing software (Bb Collaborate, Microsoft Teams, or Zoom) during the weeks of September 21 – 25, and September 28 – October 3.
For the fall 2020 term, we have capacity to visit 12 classes, and scheduling is first-come, first-serve.
Faculty may schedule through a Qualtrics link.
The process generates student insights about the course, teacher, and student behavior, ranging from observations about testing, reading load, clarity of assignments, accessibility of the professor, and even systematic issues that go beyond the individual classroom. It is no surprise that students usually know more than they let on and are very happy for the chance to contribute to the value of their learning experience. Often their reports align with hunches the professor already had, but now there is real data to work with and the CFC can partner with the faculty to develop creative solutions to learning challenges that are now clearly defined.
This year, the Coulter Faculty Commons developed a video that explains the process more fully; it can shared with students ahead of time prior to the virtual class visit, so students understand what is expected.
To Learn More:
Text-based information about the QCD
Video for sharing with students prior to virtual course visit
To Schedule (first-come, first-serve):
Register for the QCD
Dr. Eli Collins-Brown
Dr. Terry Pollard
Mr. John Hawes
Coulter Faculty Commons