Thinking back to sessions that I thought worked particularly well, a couple of things stand out. First, a clear agenda and clean focused slides that clearly reflect the agenda. As well as, the facilitator's ability to keep on track while moderating participant questions and chat. I have been in many sessions where the webinar or session has been somewhat hijacked by questions and the topic was never fully explored.
Second, the effective use of breakout rooms for short focused discussions. I have noticed that just like in a f2f setting, some participants are reluctant to talk or chat in a larger group but are more likely to participate in a smaller group discussion.
Have you had positive or negative experiences with synchronous discussion?
I find these different formats really sharpen the focus on quality participation, and that would be a concern for me is ensuring that people get a chance to be heard and allowing people to participate fully when it's harder to pick up on visual cues.
I have had the opportunity to teach 3 classes online at the end of the winter semester. I found a few interesting things.
First, we were told to only run a class for about an hour because we would lose student engagement. My class normally (in face to face) runs three hours and covers a group quiz with discussion, a synchronous presentation of the unit material and usually a case study if time.
At first I thought the hour would be enough. I found using the breakout rooms for group work enhanced the session. The students worked in their groups, had discussions and shared ideas. They then brought everything discussed back to the main group.
In having the discussions in the main room, I found students were more chatty than in the classroom face to face. In fact, I found students who usually said nothing, were sharing with the group. I have no idea the reason for this change.
In the end, I ran three hour session, varying activities. For me, I found it harder to communicate to a quiet group without seeing their faces. I'd like to learn more engagement strategies for online learning.
Hi Denise - it sounds like you were employing different learning activities throughout your 3 hour duration. To keep them engaged for that long is a testament to your teaching. We will be demonstrating breakout groups in the next synchro session. Collaborate Ultra does breakout groups quite well. Interesting observation about how quieter students in the face to face setting were more chatty online - even in the big group setting. I know there is some research that shows more engagement online for otherwise quiet students f2f but it pertained to asynchronous learning (I'll try to track it down). The same might apply for online synchronous learning?
I think your comment about students being more chatty online is insightful. It occurred to me that it might be that the online format give the students more voice, choice and control in their environment without the energy it takes to be physically present in the room. It does reduce the body language communication but in this case that might help some find their voice quicker. I also think this season of all-things-online has generated a larger comfort zone for drop and go comments in the chat or in the rooms.
Just thinking out loud!
Yes, I'm with you on these thoughts. I think that the comfort zone expands as we get used to these new environments. I was on another Collaborate session last night, and I could see in the chat area that those who felt free to add comments while the presenter was talking were experienced in the environment while those less experienced tended to be quieter in that area. It might be a question of just getting used to what's possible in there.
This movement to synchronous online environments in post secondary, which is an accelerated movement even though it has been going on prior to COVID-19, feels a bit like the move to online asynchronous environments 20 years ago, where the environment/format change compels a more direct discussion about pedagogy with course developers and instructors having to clarify their intentions more overtly. I think this is a good thing because it makes us think about what's important for our teaching and course designs.
They do seem more chatty. However, I'm not convinced that the quality of the discussion is better. While online learning benefits some students - they can search online for supporting resources and ideas. Other students can be overwhelmed and distracted and not fully engaged with the learning process. When I am back on teaching in the fall, I will be looking for opportunities to ensure that all learners are engaged and participating. I will probably do this with very specific learning tasks and tools that can capture student contributions (perhaps padlet).
Hi Briana - my two cents on this is that different technologies can favour different communication styles of different types of learners.
I've found that some learners might be less willing to contribute to synchronous discussions (which tend to favour on-the-spot thinking and responding) while being more active contributors to planning activities or text-based discussion forums (which tend to favour more thoughtful and crafted responses).
Providing multiple types of activities that allow learners to respond in multiple ways and at multiple times may help to engage the group as a whole as well as provide different opportunities for all to have their ideas heard.
I concur, that there needs to be variety. For those who can listen to the presenter and write comments in chat ... which one are they truly paying attention to? I know I have done both as a participant and then realized that I had missed something the presenter said. As a presenter, who has had to simultaneously monitor chat, it has been difficult. There has been some discussion about having a 'producer', someone to monitor the chat while I can present.. I have been wondering if this would be something that could be assigned to a student on a rotating basis? Although, then the question is... is that student disadvantaged by not listening to the presentation?... sigh....
Hi Briana and Denise,
I have been teaching a class that is two hours instead of three in the classroom. I feel I could go to three and have one that I set up for four hours per session at the end of the month, that will involve more interactive elements as well as sharing. I am really pleased to hear your results have been successful with the breakout rooms and it would suit some of my classes.
Right now I think that my students just aren't familiar with the territory and need to get used to the whole new environment before they leap in. Thats where the facilitation comes in....
I am not sure how much asynchronous material to provide per week. Currently I spend time putting together follow-up of images of work covered and any reference images plus some homework. I also work on short video demos that are done on location for class-time viewing. So Im interested in knowing if attention levels are held with short bursts of variety or can be overwhelming or too distracting.
I think you can easily find lots of research that would support the use of short and varied learning activities. Under ideal conditions, attention span is only about 20 minutes. The current crisis and forced online learning do not make for ideal conditions so you can safely assume students' ability to pay attention will be significantly reduced. I would suggest that you look to your learning outcomes to guide your activities and ensure students are getting what they need to be successful.