Group work in online, synchronous classes

Freeman et al. (2014) remind us

Active learning engages students in the process of learning through activities and/or discussions in class, as opposed to passively listening to an expert. It emphasizes higher-order thinking and often involves group work.

Those times in our in-person classes when we stop talking and let the students work together on something – those are some of the most rewarding moments. We get to walk around the room, connect up close with our students, show them we’re human and that they’re more than a student number. If the activity is a good one, the room is loud, students are practicing expert-like ways of thinking and talking, and they’re learning. On their own. Without you.

(Well, don’t underestimate the amount of work you’ve already done assembling materials for the group work, preparing students to work effectively without you, and creating a classroom culture where they know this activity is valuable enough to give it their attention.)

How can we recreate this in synchronous, online classes?

Following the example of some all-star colleagues like Bridgette Clarkston @funnyfishes, I’ve been facilitating group work in a course I’m teaching using the meeting software (Collaborate Ultra) and Google Slides. I’ve tried this 3 or 4 times with my small group of students and honestly, I’m pretty happy with it!

If you have suggestions and feedback, I’d love to hear it!

Updated Nov 23, 2020: Thanks, Greg duManoir @gdumanoir, for pointing out that teaching assistants can also circulate through the breakout rooms and Google Sheets, providing another opportunity for students to connect with the teaching team.

Update Nov 23, 2020: Thanks, Steve McNeil @wsmcneil, for a variation using Google Docs. Steve creates student groups in the LMS. When it’s time for the activity, students in Group 7 go into Breakout Room 7, and respond to Question 7 in the shared Google Doc.

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