Dynamic, interactive discussions are essential to how many faculty choose to teach and engage with students. Though synchronous discussions over video may seem less natural and may not allow for some of the affordances of in-person discussion, the technology has some benefits that you can use to encourage students to share more detailed, thoughtful, and creative responses to prompts.
This tutorial uses the following tools:
- Breakout rooms
- Zoom polling and non-verbal feedback
- Zoom annotation tools and whiteboard
- Virtual backgrounds and participant renaming
- First, consider the goals for the discussion and the context of your class.
- Do you want students to share their thoughts on the fly or do you want to give them time to reflect (by themselves or with smaller groups) before presenting to the larger class?
- What do you want students to share: Is it just their verbal responses or can your prompts allow for more creative responses that use images or other artifacts?
Note: Your goals and the size of the class may influence how you define an effective and rich class discussion.
- There are several pedagogical practices—supported by various features of Zoom—that can help you facilitate discussion, including ways to encourage creativity in responses.
- Breakout Rooms: For small group, discussions try Zoom breakout rooms. This tool is comparable to asking students to initially chat with a smaller group of peers physically around them in the classroom and then report back to the whole class. Instructors can move among the breakout rooms, can send messages to all students across all breakout rooms, and can control when students come back to the main room. In addition, the meeting host can pre-assign students to breakout rooms prior to class.
- Polling: Sometimes asking closed-ended questions and assessing general attitudes of the class can help prompt students to think more deeply about their responses. You can use Zoom polls or ask students to provide non-verbal feedback (using icons like yes, no, hand-raising, etc.). Student can also use non-verbal feedback tools to respond to their classmates (such as virtual clapping).
- Collaborative drawing: Use the Zoom Whiteboard or allow students to use the Zoom Annotation tools to collectively draw on a shared screen. These tools can be effective for brainstorming and gauging students' initial understanding of a concept. Annotated images can be saved and later posted to the class for additional activities. Coach the students to verbally describe their annotations for the benefit of anyone who cannot see the video.
- Screen sharing: Ask prompts that build on the fact that students are connected to the Internet and can access resources. Ask them to not only respond to a prompt verbally but also present evidence from course material to support their response. You can allow students to share their screens to show digital artifacts or evidence.
- Virtual backgrounds: Use the Zoom virtual background feature to solicit creative responses to questions. For example, you could ask students to choose fun virtual backgrounds and explain why they chose them for beginning-of-the-semester icebreakers. Coach students to verbally describe the backgrounds for those who cannot see the images. Also note that technology limitations or personal preferences may impact a student's ability to share video, so be flexible.
- Cues for group membership: In some discussions you might want to assign students to groups that have specific tasks during an assignment, such as in role-playing activities. Having a written or visual reminder of group membership can help students quickly reference membership of peers in much the same way that physically moving students to different sides of a room might in a face-to-face environment. You can allow students to rename themselves (or you can rename them), adding information such as their group membership to the text that appears under their name in Zoom and in the participant list. Asking students to use the same virtual background as others in their group can have the same effect. Keep in mind that students who are unable to see these changes may need additional cues, including those joining by phone.
- Note that you can turn on and off the ability for students to use several of these features in Zoom, such as screen sharing and renaming. These are settings that can be accessed and toggled on and off during the meeting.
- A final tip: remember to give participants time to unmute themselves to join the discussion. The silence online may feel longer than in the classroom, but as students gather their thoughts and then unmute, it is important to have a little extra patience.