Stephen Hersh, a faculty member and former advertising executive, outlines six steps for how you can create a community of active learning online if you “use the medium.”
What did all this do for the learning process? Zoom became a way to implement active learning, the style of instruction in which students participate in the process rather than playing the role of passive audience. Active learning can make it easier to learn, and easier to remember what they have learned. To make this happen, this was my checklist:
- Talking less. Zoom was just not friendly to a talking head. I thought of my mini lectures not as events in themselves but as introductions or kickoffs to small-group work sessions.
- Motivating students to come to class prepared. We can’t ditch live lectures without replacing them. My students loved the booklets I handed out, which basically enabled them to take in quickly the material that I would have explained if I had done a conventional lecture. When students encountered the material in several forms throughout the course, it helped make the concepts stick. I could have quizzed them on the reading before each class, but it turned out not to be necessary — they made it clear in the discussions they had done the reading.
- Using Zoom rooms. To apply Andy Warhol’s adage, on Zoom everyone is famous for 15 seconds. In small breakout rooms, they can take ownership of the ideas, identify what’s not clear to them and what they disagree with, and test how far they can run with the material on their own. They can think critically and build their skills, applying the ideas to solve problems.
- Varying the rhythm and structure. Zoom is the ultimate in low production values, but we can compensate with variety. So, I emulated the structure of a television variety show, but rather than using this structure to deliver jokes, I delivered a canon of social science theories. After each major idea, I asked students to go into a breakout room to apply the concept to analyze a situation or solve a problem. For example, when we studied cultural anthropology, I asked them to teach the others about a personal experience they had as a member of a cultural group such as an ethnic, racial or religious group, or a gender or gender identity group. I tried to keep each breakout discussion to about five minutes, because students told me the conversations tended to be less productive if they went on for much longer than that. As they said in vaudeville, “Leave them wanting more.” With this format, I was able to move on to something else before Zoom fatigue set in.
- Adopting the right mind-set and attitude. If you believe Zoom teaching is inherently worse than classroom teaching, it will be. If you can wrap your mind around the exciting possibilities of Zoom — or just give it a fair try — you’ve taken the first step. There are many ways to cultivate Zoom enthusiasm and make it infectious. For example, think: Why do I love this field to begin with? How can I express that on Zoom?
- Continuing to evolve the format with input from students. Throughout the quarter, I asked the class what was working best on Zoom. Aside from just asking, you might consider using polling tools like PollEverywhere.com or Slido (which is at sli.do). Speaking of trying things out and evolving, if you’re not comfortable with the technical aspects of how Zoom works, seek help!
Zoom has its drawbacks. It is not very welcoming to students who lack a good internet connection or a private place to study. It can leave everyone feeling disconnected, and it can trigger Zoom fatigue. But when used thoughtfully, Zoom can be the setting for transforming a class into an active community of teacher-learners.