Adding Interaction to Synchronous Sessions

There many strategies to punctuate your online classes with activities to help student learning. We should aim in any kind of teaching to vary the stimulus every 10-15 minutes to keep the learners engaged.

Simple Interactions

Using Chat for gathering Student Questions in Real-time

Often the simplest approach to gather questions is to encourage students to type their questions into the chat window and then you periodically stop to review (or have a TA monitor) the chat stream and answer a few of the most pertinent questions. You can have some moments of silence at the end of a segment to give students time to think and post some pertinent questions in the chat window. You typically don’t answer all questions, just those that will best advance student understanding and help them get the most from the lesson. This allows you to better adjust instruction “on the fly” to better serve students’ immediate learning needs. You can do this in either Collaborate or Zoom since both have chat functions for participants.


Zoom Polling

Zoom has a built-in polling function that lets you quickly build multiple-choice or yes/no questions, you can then open the question for students to complete, and once class has responded, you can then display the results. This can be a prior knowledge probe, feedback on learning progress, or a great starting point for a discussion. 

iClicker Cloud

If you have been an iClicker user, you could use Collaborate Polling to mimic those interactions, unfortunately, individual student participation can not be tracked. The Cloud version of iClicker (Reef) has recently been approved for use at UBC. It costs the student $15 dollars a semester, or $5 with a Macmillan textbook. This cost is pretty high – and students need to visit Macmillan site to sign-up and use their credit card. At least with the physical clicker, you buy it once and use it for all your courses.

Other External Tools

A number of external tools are periodically used in courses in Applied Science. It is important when you use these tools to not use student private information since most of these tools are hosted in the United States and would contravene the Canadian FIPPA legislation.

Poll Everywhere is a free polling tool that can be used inside a synchronous session. This tool has been used in our Nursing School.

Google forms is another option. One nice part of Google forms is the student responses are collected in a Google Sheet. You can pre-configure the sheet – show team with low cost at the top, display results using this chart – great conversation starters.

Mentimeter is another polling option often used in APSC 100/101. It has a number of result display options that are quite good for Engineering questions

Bigger Interactions

Adding Interactivity to Large Courses Online

Both Zoom and Collaborate lets the teacher create breakout rooms and move students to those rooms to complete activities and then bring them all back to the main room at the touch of a button. Both tools have breakout rooms, but they have different features that create different possibilities – Zoom will be integrated with Canvas and we are told that Canvas groups will be available to populate Zoom breakout rooms. This will let you use existing teams consistently across different sessions and activities. The way we do this in Collaborate is to carefully name the rooms and have students move themselves in their own team’s room. This has been used in large courses multiple times quite successfully (and is easier for the faculty member to set up). Collaborate does allow you to push a specific number of randomly chosen students to be pushed into each room or you can manually add students one by one into specific rooms (time-consuming and impractical in large courses).

Shifting to Online Activities

The biggest shift in doing activities online is they require more planning to be able to carefully orchestrate the breakout transitions and to modify your activities to better suit the debriefing conversations that are possible in the synchronous environment. To manage the transitions, I would recommend creating a script that lays out the buttons to click and when, and the careful tasking words you are going to use at the beginning of the activity and at beginning of the debriefing process.

Use your TA as a synchronous session co-pilot

One possibility is to enlist your TA to co-pilot the session and prepare the breakout rooms and facilitate the transitions during the class. This will allow you to better focus on teaching and student learning. 

Setting Up Pre-Assigned Breakout Rooms in Zoom

Zoom does lets you pre-assign students (CSV file upload) to breakout rooms, before a session – BUT, this is a problem because at UBC we can’t get students emails.

The good news is we have been told that integration with Canvas will enable us to push Canvas groups into Zoom breakout room – we let you know when we know more.. 

  • Enabling Breakout Rooms during Session Set-Up

  • Choosing Breakout Room pre-assign (CSV loading – not at UBC)

  • You add students and rooms using a CSV file

  • During the session when you are ready you move students into pre-assigned rooms

    Once you have pre-assigned students during your session set-up all you need to do to invoke breakout seesion is to click the “Open All Rooms” button (which can be accessed via Meeting Controls -> Breakout rooms -> Open All Rooms).

  • How students in rooms can ask for help?

    • Ask For Help can be used by participants within breakout rooms to get the attention of moderators/hosts, it will flash up a prompt to join the breakout room in question 

  • Messaging all rooms

    • Broadcast a Message to All can be used to broadcast session-wide announcements to participants, this can be accessed through the Meeting Controls
  • Pulling student back into the main room

    • Close All Rooms will end the breakout room session after a set number of seconds (Default of 1 minute), giving all participants a countdown before returning them to the main room

Managing Transitions (creating a script)

Here is an example of a scripted breakout room activity in Collaborate. [Prisoner’s Dilemma]

Modifying Activities to function better Online

When we take an existing classroom activity we will need to make some adjustments to make it work better online. You need to manage the logistics of activity tasking, using breakout room, collecting responses, and managing the discussion. You should reconfigure your activity prompts slightly to make sure the post-activity discussion is manageable online and focuses on the salient issues. We do this by constraining the question and deliverables slightly. When we send students into the breakout rooms we want to make sure they are clear on the task; you often do this by giving them some specific deliverables to produce. This lets you better focus their conversation on those salient topics. This helps when students are brought back to the main room – students will have discussed similar topics and made similar judgments within the constraints you have provided. This makes the reporting conversation more engaging for everyone. The constraint could be as simple as – make a decision between these options and identify 2 supporting arguments and 1 counter-arguments.

Team-Based Learning has a problem structure model that naturally constrain student work and actually makes the report conversations richer. Some instructors worry that constraints will limit the conversation, but on the contrary – the conversation better focuses on salient issues and the nuances of applying the textbook knowledge to a real-world problem. Check out the article that introduces you to the TBL model – Team-Based Learning Revisited in the Educause Review – Transforming Higher Ed

[Provide examples of transformation]