Amanda Steiner, University of Nebraska at Omaha
Jennifer Lemke, University of Nebraska at Omaha
Key Statement: Best practices for online instructional strategies include promoting community and collaborative learning experiences. Four pedagogical approaches for creating an engaging virtual learning environment are shared.
All educators have one goal in mind: to create the best learning environment possible for their students. For this to happen, instructional activities and student collaboration must be authentic, meaningful, and purposeful. Although this is no easy task in any situation, remote teaching and virtual learning environments create a unique challenge for teachers and students to engage with each other and the content through collaborative, authentic tasks.
Online learners, much like in-person learners, need an environment that fosters relationships, social interaction, and activities focused on the goals and objectives of the course (Buck, 2016; Frey, 2015). Farrell and Brunton (2020) uncovered themes essential to online student engagement. They found that the peer community created through online forums, social interactions, and collaborative activities were significant factors in students feeling supported and encouraged, leading to their overall course and content engagement. With this in mind, educators must ponder the question, “How do we foster community and collaboration in virtual environments?” Below are four face-to-face teaching strategies which are adaptable to teaching large groups effectively in online environments, regardless of the discipline of study.
Strategy 1: Think-Write-Share
Think-Write-Share is a cooperative learning strategy named for the three stages of students’ action:
The teacher provokes students’ thinking through a prompt or question. Give students an ample amount of thinking time to formulate their responses.
Students construct a written or oral response in the format or mode directed by the instructor.
Next, assign student groups into breakout rooms (or via threaded discussion) to share their thinking and responses and reflect on the prompt or question posed.
Kagan (2001) suggests that strategies like this promote both social interaction and accountability in any learning environment.
Flipgrid can be an effective tool to assist teachers in integrating the think-write-share strategy in digital environments. Flipgrid is a digital tool where students (or teachers) video-record and share their responses with others. Students can record their responses to the prompt or question posed by the teacher; once shared on the digital platform, their peers can view the digital responses to the prompt and share their reactions or thoughts.
Strategy 2: Exit Tickets
Exit tickets are another strategy that assists in teaching large groups effectively. Exit tickets are short responses that students complete at the end of a lesson or activity. They are often used to allow students to demonstrate their understanding of specific content, share reactions or reflections in connection with the lesson or task completed, or create opportunities for students to pose questions that may need follow-up discussions. These prompted responses should be a quick way to highlight student understanding and comfortability with the content and assist the instructor in planning for the next instructional steps. One benefit of exit tickets is that they create a space for all students to share individual thinking and perspective while also contributing voice in class discussions (Fowler, Windschitl & Richardson, 2019).
Technology like Padlet, Mentimeter, and Notely are great resources in assisting instructors in utilizing exit tickets in online environments. Teachers can post the assessment question or task to the digital board, and students can provide their responses to share individual thinking or learning.
Strategy 3: Gallery Walks
Gallery Walks are an active and cooperative learning strategy that promotes movement and discussion within the classroom (McCaffery & Beaudry, 2017). Gallery walks utilize stations positioned around the classroom with prompts or tasks for students to complete. Gallery walks promote cooperative learning as students collaborate and engage in discussion about the content and create a visual display of their learning. As students rotate through each station, they examine and expand upon their peer’s work.
The gallery walks strategy also fosters dialogue among small groups of students in digital environments. A gallery walk holds groups accountable for their discussion and sharing of their learning. A technology tool available to implement gallery walks in a virtual format is Google Jamboard. Google Jamboard is an interactive whiteboard that can assist students in collaborative problem solving, discussion or note-taking. This tool will allow students to write or draw using the interactive pen to document their thinking. Students can also link external resources onto the interactive sticky note as well as insert images to display their learning. This tool could be for small groups to demonstrate their learning. Upon returning to whole group instruction, the faculty can share each group’s Jamboard and encourage students to make observations, connections, or expand upon their peers’ work.
Strategy 4: Jigsaw
Jigsaw is a cooperative learning strategy that chunks content and allows teachers to assign groups of students to become experts on a specific portion of the content. Students meet in expert groups to familiarize themselves with the content and develop a shared understanding of what they read or explored. Students are then reassigned to a new group, with representatives from other expert groups, to teach the content to each other.
In a digital setting, students are assigned to expert groups and given content to explore before coming to class. With intentional planning, assign students to breakout rooms where they meet with peer’s who explore the same content and come to a consensus on what they will “teach” or share with their peers. Secondary groups are formed with an expert from each group to present their content. The digital platform of Zoom allows for small group breakout rooms that support this strategy.
Although engagement and social interactions will take on new and different manifestations in online contexts, educators must continue to strive to create these collaborative experiences as they are critical to student learning and overall academic success. In this article, we examined strategies that foster collaboration and community in virtual environments. Educators are encouraged to reflect on their current practices and determine action steps needed to facilitate authentic learning experiences that model best practices in teaching.
1) How do you, or how might you, foster community and collaboration in either
synchronous or asynchronous virtual environments?
2) How might you use one of the strategies noted in this blog in your own course to bring
about desired educational outcomes? Or if you have used one of these strategies
previously, to what extent did it meet your desired outcomes, and how might you adapt
the strategy in the future?
3) What additional tool or strategy might you try in order to enrich your teaching and
create authentic opportunities for students to learn in a digital environment?
Buck, S. (2016). In their own voices: Study habits of distance education students.
Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 10(3–4), 137– 173.
Farrell, O. & Brunton, J. (2020). A balance act: A window into online student engagement
experiences. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education,
Fowler K., Windschitl M., & Richardson J.( 2019). Understanding students, adapting
instruction and addressing equity. The Science Teacher, 86(8),18-26.
Frey, J. (2015). The importance of learning experience design for higher education. Retrieved
from http://www.gettingsmart. com/2015/04/the-importance-of- learning-experience-
Kagan, S. (2001). Kagan Structures for Emotional Intelligence. Kagan Online Magazine, 4(4), 1.
McCafferty, A., & Beaudry, J. (2017). The gallery walk: Educators step up to build assessment
literacy. Learning Professional, 38(6), 48–53.