March 27, 2020

The COVID crisis brings teaching and learning opportunity

Universities can learn from separation education

COVID-19 has forced me to delivery my flipped classroom in a new way. While normally I encourage student-led classroom discussion after an assigned reading, it’s a little difficult when students are not allowed to attend class.  

The approach I had been taking is Journal Club style, where an assigned student is expected to lead a scientific paper discussion. Leads need to guide their peers through the paper, helping them point out pros, cons and impact. Since students have little experience with leading a discussion, their performance typically leads to a PowerPoint lecture rather than a paper discussion.

Just before COVID-19 broke this semester, I advised my students that they weren’t leading effective discussions. Leading discussions can be difficult to do. It’s the reason why many instructors fear the flipped classroom. Despite establishing classroom psychological safety, many students are still reluctant to speak out. Discussion leads hate the silence that comes with asking a question. They also choose not to put a peer in the “hot seat”.

One approach I have used successfully to break this tension is gamification, wherein questions are asked in the form of a game. Students have found this to be a very exiting approach to create an “infectious” discussion environment. However, with COVID-19, it’s a little hard to do without an audience.

That being said, there are several online game approaches that can be adapted to “separation education”. In my teaching, students have previously used Kahoot, where discussion leads ask multiple choice questions and students vote with an internet device. Survey results can easily be communicated via Zoom on D2L.

Last semester, my TA helped me to develop online discussion forums for 26 students on D2L. She originally suggested this approach to help introverts contribute to class discussion without the pressure of speaking up in class. Not only was this approach hugely successful in helping introverts to gain participation marks, the approach also primed the follow-on, in-classroom discussion.

Faced with the COVID-19 classroom shut-down, I originally toyed with the idea of using the online forum approach to discuss papers, but was concerned that the approach could not be class-time-bound. I also considered using Zoom, but was anxious about a potential lack of fluidity. 

In the end, I experimented with the chat function in D2L, hoping that it would lead to a vibrant on line discussion. My two paper discussion leads were each given 40 minutes to lead their discussion, which I moderated online. The first lead used a formal approach dividing her time into eight question segments. The second lead was less formal but also led an excellent discussion.

Online chats come naturally to younger generations and I was very impressed with the discourse. Not only was the texting fast and furious, but I had to cut off both chats. Student feedback was positive: many indicated that they had fun and have asked to do it again this week. Time flew by as students were caught up in the moment. It even brought the introverts out of their shell.

Based upon my recent successes with online teaching approaches, I am opening up to some of the other online functions in D2L including groups and rooms. Some of my fall teaching involves team work, and I can see that these functions allow groupwork and meetings from a distance. Since my students originate from both campuses, this might be an effective way to help students save travel time and virus exposure.

"Crisis brings opportunity" is a famous Chinese proverb. COVID-19 is helping me to see new approaches to teaching online. This COVID experience has changed my view of Journal Clubs, for example. They’re supposed to be a learning community approach to collaboratively process new information. Instead, they’ve become a paper update system and a waste of people’s time. Journal Clubs no longer promote communities of research practice. COVID-19 has shown me possible ways to change this.