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Applying the concept to your context

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So one of my colleagues, let’s call him Brian, came to me and he asked me if I could help him improve his equity-minded teaching. And while I was talking to Brian, it was clear he wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to do, but he did make it clear that despite all of his goodwill that he didn’t have a lot of time for very large scale changes. So what Brian illustrated to me are two challenges that a lot of instructors have. One is we don’t know what we don’t know. And for this reason, I think we should never stop thinking about improving our teaching by getting advice and coaching. We’re never too good for some kind of coaching.

The second challenge that Brian demonstrated was a lack of time. So let me tell you what happened with Brian. I asked Brian if I could observe him in his teaching and when I did I was really impressed with a variety of things that Brian was doing. Notably he had a lot of group discussion. But as I looked a little closer I noticed that there were many students who were dominating certain groups. And other groups had students that were really quiet and withdrawn. So when I pointed this observation out to Brian, I asked him if he wanted to brainstorm some ideas.

We brainstormed ways that he could bring more structure to the group work that he was already doing with his students. He came up with some ideas to make sure that he had better instructions for students, so that all the groups knew what they were doing, and he wanted to make sure that these instructions were given visually as well as verbally.

And then we talked about ways to provide roles for those students within groups such as somebody being a scribe, somebody being a reporter who would report out to the whole class, a brainstormer, a timekeeper, and so on and those roles would rotate. When I saw Brian about a month later, I asked them how things were going and he was thrilled. He said that students were giving him a lot of feedback in surveys and his office hours and letting him know that they thought this kind of group work was a much better experience than other types of group work that they had had in the past.

So let’s take Brian’s example as a lesson and recognise that there are often really small tweaks we can make to our teaching that can have a big impact.

It’s always good to get advice and coaching from colleagues. You might want to ask a colleague to observe your teaching and then compare ideas or ways you could include more students in your classes. 

Think about ways you could bring more structure to your syllabus or classroom. You might want to assign roles to students in group work or allow for timed thinking time in class before inviting students to share their thoughts. It’s often small changes to your teaching that have the greatest impact.

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Discussions

Choose one class activity or assignment. What are a few things you could add to incorporate more structure?

Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments section below.

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Megan Sullivan
4 days ago

Structure in group work is good; so is getting them into groups in a way that they find interesting and that means they might get to know each other. I put up signs around for the number of groups I need and then tell students to go to the sign that matches their interests. I might have to some rejiggering after the fact, but it’s fun and they get to know each other. One week put up different flavors of ice cream; the next tell them to group under their favorite season.

Kati Dobeck
2 months ago

I would like to do more group work during class, for sure. In the past, I have gone all in with a totally flipped classroom where students watched interactive lectures at home and did assignments within small groups during class time. Students did interact well with one another, but it was always a struggle to get everyone to complete the video lectures before class. I’m thinking that if there was just one weekly pre-assignment, to get the class started at home, it might free up more time during class for more active group learning without needing to go all-in on the flipped classroom approach.

Sabrina Scott
2 months ago

I do a “check-in” assignment (written) with students where I ask both academic and social-emotional questions. I think I may also do in-person/ verbal check-ins or at least follow up with the written. What I really liked about the structure that I can use to improve teaching is the “pre” assignment…so I may even do a check-in BEFORE an assignment is due vs. after…thank you! Love learning!

Jim Powers
2 months ago

I am going to try to have my students break into small groups, give them each a section of material we need to take a quiz on, and have them make up the quiz.

Laura Cosgriff
3 months ago

I like the Think-Pair-Share concept and think may work well for some of my classes. I also like the idea of using an online survey or polling tool. I’ve done this in the past with mixed results. Student participation with polling is strong the first few times I use it in class. Then, participation fades. I think the novelty of the tool wears off. Perhaps I can include it more mindfully with only certain lessons.

Lisa Sheppard
3 months ago

I like some of the posts that have discussed other ways of using discussion boards. I am redesigning an online class and looking for ways to increase student interaction with each other without making it overwhelming to read a lot of discussion posts.

Niya Bond
Admin
3 months ago
Reply to  Lisa Sheppard

I appreciate these posts, too. Have you decided on an approach for the discussion–and ways to minimize overwhelm? I’d love to keep brainstorming.

Heather Bubnick
3 months ago

I tried giving my students different colored pens. I wanted to see a mixture of pens on each assignment to ensure that everyone is contributing. This only worked okay….What worked better was splitting students up into groups and tell each group they were responsible for presenting part of the assignment in 25 minutes. I even set a timer and displayed it on the projector. Having structure really did seem to help!

Michelle Craddock
3 months ago

I am also thinking about ways to improve online discussion. The discussion question is interesting. However, I would like to do something different than respond to another student.

I have projects at the end of each section. I structure the assignments so they prepare the students for the projects at the end of the section.

michelle yuhasz
4 months ago

When it comes to structure, I make sure that I build all my online classes with weekly assignments or discussions and weekly quizzes all due at the same day and time of the week. This way students can work ahead of they like, but the timeline is the same every week. This structure allows me to see when a student is struggling and intervene quickly as well as allowing the non-struggling students more flexibility with managing their own course timeline. It has worked wonders for success in my courses.

Mia Spanu
5 months ago

I would like to incorporate more structure into the online discussions with the intension of getting the students more engaged in the active learning. It helps them to feel they belong to a robust community of learners.

Pooja Puneet
9 months ago

My in-class polling or use of Jamboard during in-class discussion can include more structure including think-pair-share strategy where all students can participate and share ideas equally.

Nargis Wardak
9 months ago

For my class, I should add more activites for the pharmacy-task related activities.

Megan Murph
1 year ago

Polling during class is something I can easily start doing during class using iClicker to get their thoughts and to contextualize the information.

Maria Antonopoulos
1 year ago

The activity that I’d also like to incorporate more structure to is the online discussion and plan on doing so by the way that I grade it. I’ll start everyone with an overall discussion grade of 100%. For a 16 week course, 100%/16 = 6.25%/week.  Each week students need to contribute at least 1 meaningful post either in response to the discussion question or to another student in the class. If they do so, they get to keep their overall discussion grade of 100%.  If they fail to post, then they will lose 6.25% from their discussion grade that week and their discussion grade falls to 93.75%. If their response isn’t that great, then they’ll lose a few percentage points but no more than 6.25% for that week. I’ll probably give them points for about 2 weeks so that no one’s discussion grade falls below 2*6.25% = 12.5%, even someone that’s never posted the entire semester.

Niya Bond
Admin
1 year ago

I like how you are thinking about form, function, and familiarity–by way of weekly assignments and structure. When you say “meaningful” posts, do you help students understand what that might entail (that could also be another form of structure, I suppose!).

Maria Antonopoulos
1 year ago
Reply to  Niya Bond

Yes, I definitely need to elaborate on “meaningful posts”. =) It’s just a quick way of me saying that a post like “I agree” or “Great!” is not enough. I personally tend to be generous with my online discussion points but if I were to be more rigorous about it I would create a rubric and assign point value to it. Right now I give them full points for posting twice, once for answering the question and then for replying to at least one classmate. Ultimately I’d like to approach grading in a different way to see if that produces a more engaging discussion.

Niya Bond
Admin
1 year ago

Hi, Maria. Thank you for sharing this explanation. I appreciate how you are helping students build robust community in this way. I’d love to learn more about your thoughts on alternative forms of grading for these discussions–I have thought about that myself, but have yet to come up with a solution.

Maria Antonopoulos
1 year ago
Reply to  Niya Bond

I think that sharing a rubric with students is best. Since I teach math I really struggle with having online discussions about math problems in asynchronous classes so instead I try getting to know my students in the discussion. I ask them to introduce themselves, ask questions on the syllabus, and then have discussion boards on study skills and soft skills including mindset, time management, imposter syndrome, test-taking, note-taking and so forth. I’m very generous with the discussion points as I’m trying to build a community here.

Daniel Jung
1 year ago

Adding roles to team members is the one thing that I will definitely try on the spring!

Mary Johannesen-Schmidt

This semester I’m working to add more structure to online discussions. I am weary (as are students) of post and respond to two others as a model. I’m trying to give them some other models for active participation in an online discussion to get away from this formulaic model that seems so tired.

Niya Bond
Admin
1 year ago

As a fully online instructor myself, I am always interested in ways to engage with the community that can help us avoid the “discussion bored.” It sounds like you have been brainstorming multiple models for enhanced engagement. What models are you considering, specifically, and why do they appeal to you?

Nelson Wainwright
1 year ago

Hi Mary – I agree, post and respond to 2 is so common that it has gotten stale. One model I saw that I haven’t tried but am going to look at for my next online class, was to have 2 students each week who answer the discussion questions and the rest of the class engages and discusses their answers. This was touted as being able to have the students write more in-depth answers on their weak to present, and then have deeper discussions as their were only 2 or 3 topics running each week – people would have to engage with each other more deeply. The other model I have seen is to have some students submit discussion questions that the rest of the class responds to. I’m not sure how the timeframes on that would work in an online class, but I thought it was an interesting way of bringing students into the discussion board in a more active role (hopefully). Another way to structure it I saw – and this is the one I think I want to try first – is to have students assigned to roles on the discussion board. Like each week, there are… Read more »

Niya Bond
Admin
1 year ago

Hi, Nelson,
I really appreciate how you are helping us to think about taking a new approach to discussion boards, to avoid that “discussion bored,” that many experience. It looks like a lot of the solutions involve pedagogical partnerships that promote learners as leaders. Is this what appeals to you, with these techniques that you have shared? And, do you find that one approach seems more favorable than the others?

Megan Eberhardt-Alstot

I’m mostly focused on asynchronous courses. I like the idea of “roles” and have included role selection as part of the group contracts students complete as a first group assignment. But I really like the idea of roles in discussion groups. Drawing on students working in literature circles when I taught elementary, I’m thinking about using small discussion groups (4-6 students) as an alternate to whole class discussion forums. Since I typically teach pre-service teaching courses, students have assigned readings, watching, and are also working in an actual classroom as a student teacher. I could see having rotating roles (i.e. Summarizer, Connector, Questioner, Applier etc.) to foster more authentic discussion of module content than just responding to instructor generated prompts: Summarizer = Highlights key concepts from the content and connects to stated module objective Questioner = poses 2-3 questions for the group to discuss in in the forum Connector = Explains a connection to either their practical classroom placement OR prior topic in the course OR a current education event, policy, etc. Applier = Explains how a concept could be applied in their current placement or future classroom For management, I think it’s more efficient to read a group thread… Read more »

Heather Rissler
1 year ago

I am currently teaching an asynchronous online course and I think your use of roles is something I would like to implement. Thank you for sharing! ~Heather

Megan Eberhardt-Alstot

So happy to hear. Please, if you put this into practice, share how it went! I’m getting ready to re-launch an online teaching preparation program completely revised (since we haven’t run it since pree-COVID disruption. Would appreciate being able to share lessons learned and/or tips for supporting students in adopting this structure.

Niya Bond
Admin
1 year ago

I really like this idea of roles, and the way that it gives everyone a chance to be active and share their expertise!

Heather Rissler
1 year ago

Adding steps for completing an assignment could be a helpful way to add structure. That is one change I’m making this semester.

Niya Bond
Admin
1 year ago

Hi, Heather.
This clarification sounds really important for learners (and educators)! Do you include these steps on an assignment prompt, or how do you convey the information?

Heather Rissler
1 year ago
Reply to  Niya Bond

I include the steps in the assignment prompt and provide document templates, when appropriate, to help students complete all parts of the assignment. I feel that being clear and providing structure allows students to breathe and focus on the content they are learning.

Niya Bond
Admin
1 year ago

I really like the way you emphasize clarity as a tool to help comfort students and provide them with confidence.