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Designing student learning activities

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In online/remote delivery, it is important to provide engaging opportunities through active learning (in both synchronous and asynchronous modalities). Evidence shows numerous benefits of using active learning activities to engage students:

  • motivates them to be engaged learners
  • increases content knowledge, critical thinking and recall of course content
  • allows for inclusion of different learning needs
  • gets students involved in higher order thinking such as analysis, synthesis, creating thinking, adaptability, problem-solving, etc.

1. Facilitating a discussion

Start by creating shared norms for participation, while setting the stage and tone for the class discussion (see also increasing instructor presence). Discussions typically require a bit of driving; they do not seem to naturally take off in classes without some modeling.

Consider whether the topic is best suited to a synchronous discussion (see our guide to synchronous online activities) or asynchronous discussion (see the discussion board tutorial, see the tutorial Creating and Managing Discussions)

1.1. Getting started with discussions

For both modalities of discussion, it can be helpful to:

  1. provide prompts or goals for the discussion
  2. ask students to link the main topic of the week to their own experience
  3. ask students to find an example related to the topic in the media and share this back to the class
  4. ask students to find a great instructional video about the topic and share this back to the class
  5. post a fact, quote, or question and ask students to apply a theory or explain that particular example

2. Collaborative team projects

Team projects facilitate authentic learning experiences. They can also generate useful and re-usable shared digital resources (that exist beyond the project). An online/remote course provides new and expanded opportunities for the deliverable format of these projects.

2.1. Getting started with team projects

  1. Create a course wiki by having the class build a new online resource composed of text, video, articles, etc. (see to how to enable Quercus pages as wikis)
  2. Provide a scenario to solve related to the course; the deliverable could be a design document, policy recommendation, lab protocol, or anything else related to the subject (see how to create groups within your Quercus course)
  3. Set up Zoom or Microsoft Teams sessions to allow students an synchronous digital workspace in which to brainstorm and collaborate.

3. Student Presentations

Online synchronous presentations provide an opportunity for students to develop oral communication skills in the online environment. If there is a visual element to the presentation, it can also help develop visual communication skills.

3.1. Getting started with student presentations

  1. Students can record a voice-over presentation that can be shared to the whole class for feedback (using the discussion board); if video content, students should be encouraged to post their video to a streaming service, as uploading directly will count towards their Quercus quota and is not recommended) or can be assigned for peer review (using the Quercus peer review tool or PeerScholar)
  2. Students could walk their peers through a process or concept map, wireframe, or an infographic, explaining key concepts to their peers (using Microsoft Powerpoint, as part of their O365 subscriptions)

4. Break out discussions

Many webinar tools provide a break out room feature (see a comparison of commonly used webinar tools at FASE). This feature allows you to take a large group and divide the attendees into smaller groups, allowing for easier collaboration. This can provide a social experience for the students, providing the chance to talk and connect with each other. However, when choosing this modality, you'll want to consider if everyone will be able to participate in these sessions.

4.1. Getting started with break out rooms

  1. Provide instructional guidance and reassurance on what will happen during the break out room and what to do is they are disconnected (in larger sessions especially, there can be disconnections when the moderator moves the participants from the main room to the break out rooms)
  2. Provide multiple ways to participate; some students will be much more comfortable on chat or will be in an environment where using a microphone is not suitable.
  3. Back up any synchronous sessions with an asynchronous discussion, so the conversation can continue post-session (and is available for those that missed the session live or perhaps had technical difficulties); see creating and managing discussions.
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