Highlights from Meeting 1 on April 1, 2020

Posted by: Lynn Tran

We had intended to teach from Canvas, but because not everyone had joined the course yet, we opted to use Google Slides. Here is the slide deck for today’s meeting. (I had intended to record the meeting, but totally forgot to click record. Plus watching these 90 minute meetings is not exciting.)
I will highlight some of the strategies that we used along with some tips and explanations. You are all highly skilled educators and problem solvers. We hope these community conversations spark ideas and inspiration as you work to solve the problems in your situations in these challenging times.

Creative ways for people to express their thoughts.

Remember, talking is learning. When you’re online with many people, you have to get creative with ways for your learners to talk. We know that not everyone is comfortable or interested in turning on their camera or talking in the whole group. Even if they all were, it’s impossible to accommodate all the voices if there are more than 6 people in your meeting. 

  • Chat box. People are more willing to enter text in a chat box. Sometimes that dialogue can move really fast. We like to read out loud some entries that standout, and sometimes invite individuals to elaborate more on what they mean (or comment on an entry). That approach breaks the ice for those who are more reluctant to shout out responses to the group.
  • Break out rooms. During the Ice Cubes Investigation, we moved people into break out rooms to make it easier for people to talk with each other.
    • Here is a video made by Zoom that shows you how to make break out rooms, including turning on the setting on the back end. 
    • I chose to make the groups automatically because I did not know who would show up. While Catherine was giving instructions, I started forming the groups to make sure they were distributed evenly and move individuals if I didn’t like particular automatic assignments.
    • The default setting is that participants need to click to join the room. I recommend switching it to push people into rooms automatically because some will not be able to find the button. You can still get the stragglers into the room, but for the learner, it’s disorienting to feel left behind. There is an “option” button in the break out room panel after you have created the groups but before you click to open all the rooms.
    • Only the “host” can make break out rooms. When you’re teaching a large group, I recommend at least two instructors and the person managing the tech should be the host while the other instructor is the co-host. 
    • As the host, I can freely move in and out of Zoom Rooms. Participants can choose to stay in their room or go back to the main room. They can do most everything in their rooms that they can do in the main room. It can be helpful to let people know this before they move into breakout rooms. But then, all that upfront information is overwhelming, and distracting for the task you want them to do — they get pre-occupied with all the shiny things in the room they don’t stay on task.
    • When participants are in their rooms, the educator doesn’t know what’s going on unless you are in the room with them. There is a button they can click to call you (like raising their hand). Sometimes people don’t know they need help or are reluctant to call for help, or wait too long to call for help. When we’re teaching in person, we notice when groups get stuck before they realize it or call us over. There is a lot of monitoring we can do that is lost to us online. The host just sits in the main room by themselves until called for, or intrudes into a room and disrupts conversation dynamics. See Collaborative documents for our solution.
  • Collaborative documents. These are handy to use during online meetings as a place for the group to capture notes and invite people to participate, anonymously. Zoom has a white board feature for this purpose, but I find that space too small AND requires you to share your screen, which dominates people’s view and obscures my view of all people’s faces (I don’t like sharing my screen)
    • Google docs are our go to tool to use alongside Zoom when teaching online. The document that the group contributed to that day is here. What’s at the top of the page is actually the last thing we did. If you click on the “document outline” icon on the left of the doc, you’ll see there are 3 sections in the doc for the 3 sections of the activity. 
    • We typically embed the link in the Google Slides or Canvas so that participants can get to the doc on their own. Today, we entered the link into the chat box when we were ready for the people to use it. IMPORTANT — select the share link “Anyone with the link can edit” so that people do not need to be invited or logged into Google to access the document. This approach makes their entries anonymous, which encourages people to express their thoughts without too much fear.
    • To control some of the chaos when everyone is editing the document at the same time, space is designated. For PREDICTIONS, we were still all together and people typed wherever they can get their cursor to land based on their predictions. For SMALL GROUPS, we made 10 groups so each group had their own designated space. 
    • staging document makes it convenient. I used to have the document all sectioned out from the beginning, but then found that all those details upfront cluttered the view for learners. Sometimes, we’ll use different documents for the different tasks — meaning these 3 sections would have been 3 different documents. That can get cumbersome if there are too many people and they lose track of which document we’re working on. So, now, I have a staging document that has everything that I need ready to go. As Catherine is leading the group conversation, I copy and paste in the next set of details. 
    • Use for monitoring breakout rooms. With all the rooms having their designated writing spots, I can roughly see which rooms need my help. If no one’s cursor is where they’re supposed to be, then I know that group might be a little lost. If learners need to read or watch something prior to writing, then I give them a few minutes. When others begin to type and there are groups that still have nothing, then I really know which groups are stuck. In yesterday’s meeting, we had 10 groups. Only 3 groups were not yet writing when everyone else started typing away, so I popped into those rooms to get them going. Each room had a different situation — didn’t know they were supposed to write, where to write, what to write, stuck on concepts, technical difficulties, etc. So, you don’t have to wait for them to call you into their room to enter and provide help in a non-intrusive way. And you don’t need to enter all the rooms. It is nice to be able to check in on everyone, but logistically, when teaching online, the flow and progression doesn’t really make it possible. Time flies by faster!!!

Creative ways to give people something to talk about.

If we want people to talk, we need to offer them something to talk about. A thought provoking question or thought experiment is a start. In person, that’s when the hands-on materials come out. All our wonderful objects give people something to talk about. Online, we might show everyone a live demo. Today, we used a pre-made video. 

  • People watched and talked about ice melting in two cups of water for 50 minutes! 
  • The pre-made video enables us to control the situation a bit better for an investigation like this. The video captures what we want them to focus on without distraction, both for us and our learners.
  • People are in control of the materials, virtually. They all get the link to the video to watch, stop, replay, etc. We prefer to give learners autonomy when we can. We just constrain the situation to minimize confusion. The hardest part is getting the link to them, which you see is embedded in the Google doc for today (in Google Slides and Canvas when we typically teach)

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