In the classroom, peer discussion in pairs or groups on a task is an established method for encouraging active learning (Murphy et al., 2009). In online teaching, it is difficult to emulate the immediacy of breaking up into smaller groups for discussion, without it becoming cumbersome or distributed over time e.g. in asynchronous discussions. The beauty of the face-to-face model is that the educator can observe group engagement at a distance, eavesdrop and intervene to facilitate discussion if necessary. In online spaces such as webinars, interactions inevitably become more formal, with text and video recording further inhibiting participation over concerns that their spontaneous interactions will live on digitally. Online anonymous spaces are rare but appear to hold value for students (Bayne et al., 2019). Discussions which are private and ephemeral run counter to dominant narratives of capturing teaching and learning for use or reuse by students, or by institutions for the purposes of learning analytics.
This presentation will describe the thinking behind a short online activity designed for distance learning students during a webinar session: participants were placed in a private breakout room and given a link to a Google slides where they had to edit collaboratively in real-time to solve a problem and crack a code. Using a web conferencing tool for weekly online seminars, distance students on the PgCert in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education at the University of Greenwich had an established pattern of engagement whereby they were invited to ‘take the mic’ or type in the chat window to communicate with their peers. Whilst familiar (to class-based settings) patterns of un/willingness to participate emerged, these webinars lacked opportunity to draw contributions from the more reluctant and thereby increase satisfaction and critical thinking opportunities (Hamman et al., 2012) and exploit established benefits of peer learning (Boud et al., 2014). To challenge this tendency we used the ‘break out room’ facility of the web conferencing tool and synchronous live editing function of Google Slides to integrate problem solving, collaboration and discussion amongst sub-groups within the wider webinar framework. As with all our teaching approaches in the PgCert, we invited participants to critique the activity and reflect on whether it would be a suitable approach in their own teaching practices.
This presentation will outline the rationale, design and organisation of the online activity. Participants will be invited to collaborate in an online task during the presentation to experience how private online spaces can be utilised for more inclusive teaching practices. The session will end with a discussion on feedback from our students and reflections from participants on how this approach could be taken forward in their own practices.
Bayne, S., Connelly, L., Grover, C., Osborne, N., Tobin, R. Beswick, E. & Rouhani, L. (2019): The social value of anonymity on campus: a study of the decline of Yik Yak, Learning, Media and Technology, DOI: 10.1080/17439884.2019.1583672
Boud, D., Cohen, R., & Sampson, J. (2014). Peer learning in higher education: Learning from and with each other. Routledge.
Hamann, K., Pollock, P. H., & Wilson, B. M. (2012). Assessing student perceptions of the benefits of discussions in small-group, large-class, and online learning contexts. College Teaching, 60(2), 65-75.
Murphy, P. K., Wilkinson, I. A., Soter, A. O., Hennessey, M. N., & Alexander, J. F. (2009). Examining the effects of classroom discussion on students’ comprehension of text: A meta-analysis. Journal of educational psychology, 101(3), 740.