Discussions in Flex-Hybrid Learning
What can discussion mean in flex-hybrid learning? Why is it especially valuable? What are some things to think about when designing discussions? These slides, from Caroline Toy (CLT), discuss the basics, from improving student participation, to structuring discussions for community-building, to leveraging technologies. Click the image to explore (Champlain login required; video coming soon).
Effective Discussion Strategies
Some people find open discussion in Google Meet or Zoom stilted. Others find Canvas discussions ineffective because students do not participate consistently. The video above offers some basic cross-disciplinary tips for improving the quality of both synchronous and asynchronous discussions. Further resources are below.
General Strategies for Good Class Discussions
The single most important thing for having a successful discussion in an unusual environment is preparing and communicating a clear structure. Make the parameters and topics of your synchronous or asynchronous discussions especially transparent in flex-hybrid learning. This includes explaining the discussion activity, setting up breakout groups in advance, and carefully setting requirements for Canvas discussions (like due dates).
Quick resource: Jennifer Gonzalez’s “Big List of Class Discussion Strategies” was compiled in 2015 for in-person classes, but many of her strategies are adaptable for flex-hybrid. Try the Gallery Walk in a Canvas discussion, for example, or invite your students to use the chat function within Meet as a backchannel. If you expand your technology toolkit, you can do Affinity Mapping using Jamboard (or simply a Google Doc) and Meet, or Pinwheel Discussions, Snowballs, or structured debates by using breakout groups to prepare for a full-class discussion.
Champlain resources: Josh Blumberg (Academic Technology) conducted a webinar on remote discussions during the spring 2020 pivot. You can see Josh’s resources and slides and access a recording here (Champlain login required). You can also access the written guidance on discussions from spring 2020 in the CLT website archives here.
Discussions in Canvas
Canvas is Champlain’s primary tool for asynchronous discussion. While other tools are great (as long as you are using them in ways that are FERPA-compliant), Canvas is the only asynchronous tool for which we are able to offer technical assistance. We highly recommend that you use it whenever possible, both for that reason and because it is clearest and easiest for your students.
Mastering the Canvas Discussion Tool
If you are new to asynchronous discussion in general or Canvas Discussion specifically, you are not alone. This tool is a powerful way to create and run discussion fora, and that is sufficient for many instructors. If you are looking to master the basics, there are many tutorials available, in addition to peer and CLT Design Team support.
Quick resources: Canvas’s authoritative support and how-to documentation is available on the Instructure website. We recommend starting with the Canvas Basics article “What Are Discussions?” and then consulting the more detailed user guides on Discussions; read the guide index carefully to identify the information you need. If you are just starting with Discussions, educator Ashlee Espinoza provides a video introduction:
Many colleges and universities, as well as Instructure have developed video or Canvas-based tutorials on Discussions and other aspects of the LMS. You may find other useful information by googling.
Champlain resource: the Fall 2020 Canvas Template contains an instructional module for faculty that includes targeted information about how to set up Discussions. Learn more about how to import the template, or access it without importing, here.
Level Up: Leverage Canvas Discussions for Community and Creativity
We want to highlight two other things about Canvas Discussions: creative ways you can enhance Discussions to facilitate different kinds of interactions, and the Group Discussions feature.
Discussions in Canvas can enhance the course experience by structuring interaction in different ways. In a sense, they become the classroom space, especially for students participating virtually who have tech equity or time zone issues that make videoconferencing difficult.
Quick Resource: During the nationwide transition to remote learning in March, Instructure provided a webinar series on remote pedagogy through Canvas. This video, with Dr. Travis Thurston, explores Discussions as a way to “power up” engagement:
Champlain Resource: As the video discusses, Canvas’s Discussions tool is primarily intended to facilitate discussion forums, but can be deployed for many other purposes, including student collaboration, peer review, artistic critique, informal communication, and more. In April 2020, a panel of Champlain faculty including Dr. Krista CrawfordMathis (CCO), Ms. Christa Hagan-Howe (CCO), Dr. Mike Lange (Core), and Dr. Roz Whitaker-Heck (CCM) shared their success creatively using Canvas discussions in fully online and flex-hybrid environments. We recommend viewing this recorded webinar to jump-start your thinking (Champlain login required).
Canvas contains a special, often-unused set of tools for student groups. To summarize, the instructor can set up permanent or semi-permanent small student groups that can create and exchange their own pages, calendar, and autonomous discussions. Fully using Groups is a more advanced Canvas skill (the organization is less straightforward than the main Canvas course), but you can use some of the features of Groups to set up small-group spaces for each Discussion. This is an excellent opportunity to refocus discussion itself: a small group of students talking to each other are motivated by their audience and the sense of learning sub-community that can develop.
Quick resource: There are two separate steps to setting up group discussions: creating the groups, and selecting the appropriate options to designate the Discussion for groups (which causes Canvas to generate the small-group spaces). Instructure provides guides to both setting up groups (creating a “group set”, with internal links about options for adding students to groups) and designating a Discussion as a “group discussion”.
Using Meet for Videoconferencing
Our primary tool for videoconferencing is Google Meet. Meet will soon roll out a set a new features similar to Zoom’s, like breakout groups, hand-raising, polling, and Jamboard (whiteboard) integration. Later this summer, we will introduce Panopto, another option for videoconferencing.