Abstract: Helping Students Engage in Discussions in the Fully Online Classroom

Accepted proposal for the Southwest Popular and American Culture conference, presented on February 24, 2021.

With the recent shift to online classes, there has been a lot of talk on how to recreate the quality of an in-person discussion in an online setting. In this presentation, I’ll share the techniques I’ve learned from setting up the overall class structure and leading discussions over Zoom. I used the same basic structure in my classes in the spring and this fall to great success, creating a friendly and open classroom environment that fosters critical thinking and discussion. I have used these strategies in four types of classes: a video games literature class, an Honors writing class, three sections of College Writing I, and three sections of College Writing II.These best practices will help you develop your course from the ground up so that you can take advantage of the fully online classroom.

In terms of overall structure, I’ll suggest strategies for planning a two day a week class in a way that increases student engagement while still allowing time for lecture. This structure sets up one day as lecture, an overnight asynchronous discussion or forum assignment, and the second class as discussion. Additional assignments can be added as needed, and I’ll explain how to structure due dates to reduce workload for the students.

In addition, I’ll share strategies for getting students to interact out loud and via the chat box in Zoom. Setting expectations early on in the semester, preferably on the first day, and following certain patterns of responses gives students the security they need to be able to fully participate in the class. Utilizing both video/audio responses and the chat box is important in encouraging conversations, and teachers must learn to adapt to the dual nature of Zoom to succeed in managing a new type of class discussion.

While the classes I’ve taught focus on writing and literature, the techniques can be used in any subject where lecture and discussion are equally important, including other communication-focused classes and even STEM classes. In addition, these strategies can be successfully adapted to a hybrid classroom with only a few minor changes. Although I won’t be going into details on using an LMS, I will mention how Sakai and Canvas can be used in setting up classes.

This presentation will provide concrete advice on how to create a positive learning experience that engages your students and encourages fruitful class discussions.

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