3.1. Actively Engaging All Students During Class Meetings

We have discussed above how active and interactive elements improve student learning and enhance equity. Here we provide some concrete suggestions for how to incorporate active learning in ways that smoothly transition between the dual-mode, remote instructor, or fully remote context.  While distancing, masking, and remote students certainly all add to the challenges of making class sessions interactive, many activities are possible with a bit of planning and the right tools.

Sample Active Learning Elements for the Resilient Classroom

The following activities can all be managed in the dual-mode, remote instructor, or fully remote classroom. Aim to incorporate a few of these (or others!) that look effective and manageable into each class period.

  • Opening question - using polleverywhere.com (or zoom chat in a fully remote class), ask students to share a brief answer to a question that will help them get to know each other and/or surface their thoughts or experiences with a class-relevant issue.
  • Collaborative editing in Google suite (If in a building with upgraded wifi) - ask pairs or small groups of students to collaborate on a document, spreadsheet, or slide. For example, have each group edit a google slide to put events in order; color-code a list, create a flow chart, or sort words into categories. Note that the OIT does not recommend relying on all students accessing websites simultaneously in buildings without upgraded wifi
  • Yes/no voting - use colored index cards or sticky notes for in-person students, or the zoom yes/no feature for remote students, to quickly poll the course on a binary question. For example, in-room students hold up a green sticky note to vote yes while remote students use the green “yes” vote. 
  • Ungraded quiz - Post a sample quiz question or problem for students to solve. You may have them self-grade and assess whether they need to study more, and/or have them submit the answers (e.g., using google forms), so that you can also get a sense of students’ progress.
  • Backchannel chat - Some instructors like to give students a chance to pose and answer questions about the class in a “backchannel” like zoom chat or the Sakai chat forum. This may be most useful if you have a TA who can serve as a chat moderator and address questions with accurate information.
  • Polling - Have students vote or answer a multiple choice question. Tools like Polleverywhere or Google Forms allow you to instantly show a graph of results so that everyone can see the distribution of responses.
  • Small group/Breakout room discussions - Have students discuss a clear prompt or complete a specific activity in pairs or small groups. Classroom testing suggests that groups of 2 or 3 students in a distanced, masked classroom are able to converse with each other, though larger groups may struggle. For remote students, use the zoom breakout room feature.
  • Pause for individual writing - Sometimes known as the Minute Paper, this chance for students to reflect and write down their thoughts about a question or a topic allows them to develop a clearer answer, deepen their learning, and/or prepare for discussion.
  • Write/Pair/Share - Combining the previous two steps can be especially fruitful. When posing a question to the class, first give every student time to think and write about it individually. Then ask them to pair or group up to discuss and hone what they’ve written. After that, students will be primed to participate in meaningful whole-class discussion. As a bonus, this activity is highly adaptable in time and format.

For any of these elements, be sure that you clearly communicate your goals and expectations for your students ahead of time, to maximize the impact of the activity and minimize student confusion.