I recently took the plunge into the blended synchronous learning format. Existing resources, such as Teche posts on blended synchronous learning and small group classes with an online option, are extremely helpful. This post shares a few techniques the Macquarie University Business School (MQBS) Co-op team, the students and I are using to retain interactive discussions and activities that are central to learning in the Introduction to Professional Practice (PROF1001). The unit is taught in a flipped classroom mode, so some techniques may be most relevant for units with a high level of student engagement. Here are some tips for facilitating different kinds of in-class activities.
Getting set up
Log onto Zoom from a laptop that is connected to the lectern and project the monitor. Use the laptop for the host functions, such as managing break-out groups and sharing the screen. In this way, students on-campus and on Zoom can see the same slides and videos. Ensure the laptop microphone and speakers are both muted. Make sure the cordless mic from the lectern is charged and ready to go. Download Zoom on a smartphone and log into the meeting.
Large group discussions
When you’re speaking to the whole class hold up the smartphone as the camera and microphone so students on-campus and on Zoom can see you. Use the smartphone as a roving camera and microphone, so the students on Zoom can see and hear on-campus students. Students on Zoom appear on the projected monitor and you can use the cordless mic so their voices can be heard through the classroom speakers. I ask students to just speak up, rather than raising hands, so the students on Zoom don’t wait to be called on.
Small group discussions
Some activities can easily proceed in a close approximation of on-campus modes, such as small group discussions. In these cases, on-campus students simply break into pairs or small groups (without moving chairs to ensure physical distancing is maintained), and the break-out groups function in Zoom can be used to allocate the students on Zoom to groups as well.
Role plays and debates
Previously, I printed background information for each role and handed them out to small groups, so each individual has background on their own role but not the roles of others. In the blended synchronous environment, I add a Google sheet to the ‘Resources for in-class activities’ section on iLearn and use a different tab for the introduction of the scenario and background for each participant. Before we break into groups, I provide background on the scenario and get groups to allocate roles before they open the Google sheet, so each person knows which tab to review.
Participatory activities are, perhaps, the trickiest to translate to a COVID-safe or blended synchronous space, because they normally involve students moving around the classroom to engage in activities and discussions. It’s early days, but here is one example of the kinds of adaptations I plan to use. In lieu of students lining up on a continuum and discussing their position with people near them, they will hold up a hand with the number of fingers raised corresponding to the extent of their agreement or disagreement with a statement; something like a likert scale from 1-5. Students can stay in their seats or on Zoom and join a small group to discuss their positions on the issue.
I hope this example from practice gives you some ideas for your own teaching. If you have been experimenting with online or blended learning and have found some ways of working, I’d love to hear from you. Please post your ideas or techniques in the comments section below.