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Interact with students through online course activities

Reminder: If you are planning for fall 2020, please plan for ways to interact with students both asynchronously online and during synchronous class meetings.  As you plan your synchronous meetings, do so in a way that prepares you to meet in-classroom (in case that turns out to be possible for you and your students), in Zoom, or in some combination (if some but not all are able to meet in-person).

In addition to sharing course material and delivering lectures, instructors will also need ways to provide feedback to students, pose questions, answer questions, and create opportunities for instructor-student and student-student interaction. The most effective online activities require students to intellectually engage with the course content and to receive formative feedback from their instructors. This handout illustrates how these various elements fit together: Recommended Pedagogy for Online Teaching 

Interaction Through Zoom

As noted in the previous section, Zoom sessions can be used for Interactive Lectures (which combine direct instruction with interactivity). 

Zoom can also be used for discussion sessions, recitation sessions, or office hours in which instructors pose questions, give immediate feedback on answers, respond to student questions, etc.  For "live" online sessions, please bear in mind that, because you may have students living in a wide range of time zones, students may be logging into your course in the middle of the night.  You may wish to find out which timezone your students are in and, if you see that some are facing this challenge, please make it clear whether or not they are required to be present during your live sessions--or if they are permitted to watch recorded videos later.  Also, if you plan to hold synchronous office hours, please do what you can to do so at times that accommodate the timezones where your students are.

First Steps: Review this guide to Interaction in Zoom and plan out an Zoom meeting that prioritizes student interactivity.

Interaction through Online Discussion Forum

An alternative is to use an online discussion forum, which many faculty use for discussion-intensive courses. Because the forum is asynchronous, you'll find that, used well, it will broaden and deepen student participation because all students participate and they have more time to formulate and express more substantial responses.

First Steps: Create a Course Site Discussion Forum for your first Class Session, Week or Unit.

Teaching Tips for using Course Site Discussion Forum:

  • If you are teaching a discussion-intensive course, you may find this resource helpful: Discussion-based Online Classes - Sample Weekly Workflow for Instructors and Students.
  • Asynchronous discussions work best when instructors post open-ended prompts that direct students to engage with the course material, producing work other students can respond to, and the instructor can review. 
  • If you have a large class, create groups to make student discussions more manageable. To enable Group Mode in your Forum, edit your Forum settings. Under "Common Module Settings" change Group Mode to 'visible groups or 'separate groups.'
  • Encourage students to respond to one another. One method to do this is to require each student to post one response to the prompt and at least one post in response to another student.  
  • If you want students to post their own response before seeing other students’ responses, select “Q & A Forum” under Forum Type. To deepen student-student interaction, give students a deadline to post their response, a second deadline to post a response to three classmates, and a third deadline for the original poster to post a follow-up summary that addresses the three responses.
  • You don't need to respond to every student's post but you should keep up to speed on the discussion by spot checking various posts. It is a good idea to give some kind of feedback, even if you only select a few posts and a few responses and write/record your thoughts on them.  For example, in your next lecture, you can refer to and respond to select discussion posts calling attention to specific things students said. Or you can respond once-a-week to each student's summary post. Or, if you prefer not to post in the discussion forum, you can  assign a separate writing assignment that challenges students to build on the online discussion--then give feedback on that assignment as you would on an essay or paper. 
  • Promote productive discussions by posting discussion forum guidelines and making participation part of the course grade.
  • Students have been provided with this guide: Preparing for Remote Learning: Ten Crucial Steps for Students. You may wish to familiarize yourself with what they are reading, and remind them to consult it as they begin your online class.  

Other approaches that foster online student-student and faculty-student interaction:

  • Perusall is a powerful tool, built into Course Site, that lets you combine student readings with student annotation, inquiry, and discussion about course readings. Done well, student discussion take place in the margins of their reading.  Tip: For the first few assignments, post some questions in the margins and have students either post responses or post their own questions. Later, have each student post one comment or question and reply to one comment or question for each posted reading assignment. Give them tips on what kind of posts you are looking for. Spot check their posts.  At first, give general feedback regarding quality, then after a week or two, give individual feedback to students who are falling short in terms of quality and quantity of posts.  When you set up a Perusall assignment, you can decide how many posts students are expected to make and the Perusall gradebook will automatically assign a grade to student work. We recommend you don't rely exclusively on the Perusall grade, but it can help you see who has completed the assignment.
  • If a course is fully or mostly online, students will need a way to connect with one another in ways that don't have to include the instructor.  You can start this process by getting students to work together, e.g., using Breakout Rooms in Zoom, which can give students a chance to connect socially as well as intellectually.  You can then set up assignments where students have to collaborate outside of class -- create groups and point them toward collaboration tools like Piazza, Slack , GroupMe, Google Meet, etc.   Ask them to share tools with each other and do your part to make sure all students have the opportunity to get connected so you don't just reinforce cliques that leave some students out.
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