Making sure that everyone participates in class discussions is vital for building community in a flex-hybrid course.
We know how to get students to participate in discussions in our physical classrooms, and the good news is that we can emulate those same techniques for virtual or hybrid class meetings as well.
In some cases, it’s even easier to use these techniques virtually than in-person. This is because flex-hybrid teaching naturally lends itself to using a wider range of modalities for discussion, which allows a more diverse set of voices to “have the floor”.
Here are some techniques that you can use to include everyone in your flex-hybrid class discussions.
“Grid”, “Tile”, or “Gallery View”
One essential technique for making sure that everyone is included in your synchronous class meetings is to use “grid”, “tile” or “gallery view” (these all refer to the same thing: the “Brady Bunch” view). Managing a synchronous discussion will likely be much easier if you use this view, which will enable you to see many more participants at a time. This will help you know who’s participating and who is not.
- Here’s how to use “gallery view” in Zoom.
- Here’s how to use the “tile view” in Meet. Right now, there’s a max of 16 participants, but Google has promised to expand it to 49 soon.
(Note that if you previously installed the “grid view” Chrome extension, it may be helpful to uninstall it now to ensure that “tile view” functions correctly. To do that, open Chrome, click the three vertical dots on the top right, then choose “More tools”, and then “Extensions”. Select the Grid View extension, then choose “Remove”. Confirm by clicking “Remove” again.)
If you have students who need captioning, use Google Meet rather than Zoom for synchronous class sessions. Meet has automatic live captioning that is at least somewhat accurate.
The option to turn captions on is private to the user and may benefit students who do not have accommodations as well.
Canvas Discussion Forums
After our pivot to remote education in the spring, many Champlain faculty reported that introverts who rarely spoke up in class turned out to be some of the best contributors to discussion forums. A hybrid class that includes a weekly discussion forum might be a wonderful way to let your introverts shine.
Canvas discussions are also an excellent way to “surface” diverse points of view that might not be expressed in a physical classroom. One technique for doing this is by requiring students to post to discussion forums before they can read the contributions of others. This would allow them to present their positions without being influenced by the opinions of others. Here’s a good article with more about this.
It’s important not to treat discussion forums as “set it and forget it” assignments! Many Champlain faculty members who had success in using discussion forums during remote instruction in Spring 2020 reported that they stayed actively involved in the forums as they evolved.
This doesn’t mean that you have to lurk in your class discussion forums all day long. A “seed” post at the beginning and a little “injection” post to rev up a conversation halfway through the week (by posing a new/follow-up question, commenting on what had been said so far, etc.) were reported to be highly effective strategies.
See our page on effective discussion for more tips!
Breakout groups or “breakout rooms” are a lower-stakes discussion environment where many students will feel more comfortable.
A “breakout rooms” feature will soon be added to Meet, but it’s not ready yet.
You can find helpful techniques for using breakout groups and group work in synchronous and asynchronous environments here.
Shared Google Docs during Synchronous Class Sessions
A way to promote participation among introverts in a synchronous flex-hybrid class session is to ask students to first reflect on a question for 5-10 minutes by freewriting in a private Google Doc, then adding the most interesting parts of their freewrite in a shared class Google Doc, and then reading others’ contributions to the Doc and inserting comments about them. This can be an excellent synchronous or asynchronous substitute for think-pair-share or other breakout discussion groups and can be a little easier to manage than virtual breakout groups.
The “Mute” Function
It’s important to point out and address inequities in participation openly when you see them occurring.
In an in-person classroom, it can be hard to manage students who over-contribute, but in a virtual classroom, you can ask students to mute their mics after they’ve contributed to the discussion and not unmute themselves until everyone has had a chance to contribute.
If people don’t comply with your polite request, you can mute them yourself.
Polls and Other Active Learning Activities
Active learning activities such as polls and clicker questions, which test students’ comprehension on the fly, often require special equipment and an instructor learning curve in a physical classroom, but are much easier in a synchronous flex-hybrid classroom.
There are many options for creating web-based or smartphone polls and clicker questions:
- Canvas has a smartphone polling app, which can be downloaded from the App store and from Google Play.
- @polly is a “bot” that can be used to take polls in Google Meets chat (here’s how).
- The free version of PollEverywhere can create and present polls on a website (which you’d then show students using the “present screen” feature in Meet or Zoom), or in Google Slides if you add the PollEverywhere extension to Chrome.
Polls and clicker questions can be extremely helpful for including more perspectives in discussions on contentious issues. Minority opinion students may hesitate to register their opinions with a show of hands, but may reveal them in anonymous feedback. (Unfortunately, Canvas does not yet offer anonymous discussions, although this is a feature users have requested and it might be added in the future.)
If you’re interested in using polls and clicker questions, there are a lot of great resources out there. Here are a few:
- Carnegie Mellon University has put together a downloadable PDF with a quick overview of clickers and some examples of how they could be used in different disciplines.
- The NEA website’s overview offers some helpful thoughts on how polls and clickers can be used to liven up classroom dynamics.
- Washington University’s website provides a handy breakdown of the different types of questions that can be asked using clickers – including recall, conceptual, “muddiest point”, personal beliefs/perspective, and experiment/predictive questions.
- Vanderbilt University’s website has a similar, though slightly different, list of question types, some ideas for using clickers for assessment and homework collection, plus an interesting paragraph on “contingent” or “agile” teaching, in which the lesson is driven entirely by student responses to clicker questions.
For more information about diversity, equity and inclusion at Champlain College see the DEI training course here. Further information about DEI concerns related to teaching in 2020 for Champlain faculty is available here.