In hybrid and remote courses, making sure that everyone participates in class discussions is vital for building community. 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 be inclusive in virtual environments. We have more modalities for communication at hand (videoconference, chat, discussion boards, cloud-based collaboration) that can invite people with anxiety about speaking in a classroom or some types of disabilities into the conversation. We have more control if a bias incident occurs. This allows a more diverse set of voices to “have the floor”.

Inclusivity in Synchronous Virtual Environments

Screenshot of a Zoom call in Gallery View, with 42 participants arranged in a grid of small images.
Zoom Gallery View (source)

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.

(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.)

Breakout Groups

Breakout groups or “breakout rooms” are a lower-stakes discussion environment where many students will feel more comfortable. Some students report that they are more comfortable turning on their cameras and participating in a virtual breakout than in the full virtual class.

Breakout tools are available in Zoom and Meet. Here’s how to set up breakout groups in Zoom and set up breakout rooms in Meet.

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 or Jamboard, and then reading others’ contributions to the Doc. This can be an excellent synchronous or asynchronous substitute for think-pair-share or other breakout discussion groups, or can be used to get breakout groups started. It may also help English language learners who need more time to articulate their thoughts.

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. This tool (as well as the option to remove participants) may also be useful if a student is persistently disrespectful, or if you encounter a “zoombomber”.

Captioning

If you have students who need captioning, make sure your videoconference platform has captioning. Meet has automatic live captioning that is at least somewhat accurate. InSpace does not have auto-captioning and is not a viable option if you have students with this accommodation.

Inclusivity in Asynchronous Virtual Environments

Canvas Discussion Forums

Introverts who rarely speak up in class sometimes turn out to be some of the best contributors to discussion forums! A weekly discussion forum–whether your class is virtual or in-person–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. You will have the most success with discussion forums if you stay actively involved. 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 articles on effective discussion and online discussion for more tips.

Closely monitor discussions about sensitive topics. Explore our article on shared values to learn more about responding to bias and disrespect in Canvas discussions.

Further Resources

For more information about diversity, equity and inclusion at Champlain College, see the DEI training course here (Champlain faculty Canvas login required). In this course you can learn about avoiding tokenism as you invite students with marginalized identities and perspectives into the conversation, as well as responding to bias incidents in the classroom.

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