Center for Teaching and Learning

May 11, 2020

Engaging students in online spaces

How José Guzmán gets marine biology students talking in class

By Nicole Feodorov, blog editor

At a recent Teaching Remotely Pop-Up session, José Guzmán (UW Aquatic and Fishery Sciences) shared some of his strategies for keeping students engaged during his synchronous online classes. Guzmán divides his 50-minute classes into three sections. Classes begin with a lecture, transition into small student-led discussion groups, and then wrap up with students sharing their meeting notes.

The discussions take place in Zoom breakout rooms, giving students a chance to engage with each other and the material. Guzmán pre-assigns his students to rooms and sets clear goals and expectations to help them get started.

In breakout rooms, students are asked to:

  1. Introduce themselves
  2. Choose roles within the group (moderator, timekeeper, note-taker, or reporter) and
  3. Respond to discussion prompts within a specified amount of time

Once the small groups start, each group adds their discussion notes to the class’s shared Google document. This practice helps Guzmán monitor how the work is progressing — which groups might need a hand or if any of the discussion prompts need clarification. Zoom gives him the option to drop in on a breakout room and facilitate if needed.

The last part of the class is spent reporting back. Students have a chance to review what other groups posted to the Google document, and Guzmán randomly calls on “reporters” to share their group’s discussion.

Tips to get students talking:

  • Allow a few extra minutes of group time for students to chat and get comfortable participating in the online environment.
  • Ask them to respond to a fun “easy cheesy” low-stakes question at the beginning of their group discussions. Example: What is your favorite food?
  • To save time and give students practice working in different roles (moderator, timekeeper, note-taker, or reporter), assign roles to students based on the alphabetical order of first names or their answer to a fun question.

Learn more about engaging students in online spaces. A captioned recording of this Teaching Remotely Pop-Up session is available on Panapto. Use your UW netID to access the video.

Video: Engaging Students in Online Spaces