Not all classrooms are face-to-face, but discussions are still very important. It helps students share their ideas, hear new ideas and learn how to respond respectfully to new ideas. Learning is constructive! Distance learning or virtual learning is becoming more and more prevalent at all levels of education, so providing opportunities for virtual classroom discussions is essential.
In previous blog posts, I’ve discussed ways to improve classroom discussions in areas such as measuring discussion, increasing student talk, and decreasing teacher talk. Many of those same techniques in those blog posts are still applicable to distance learning and virtual learning. This is part 5 of my improving classroom discussion series.
What does a virtual classroom discussion look like?
If you’re new to virtual classroom discussions, you’re probably wondering how the whole things can look. How can you organize all of your students to be online at the same time? What if a student isn’t online when you are? How do we prevent students from talking all at once. How do you deal with microphone or video issues?
Let’s take a look at the two types of virtual classroom discussions to hopefully start giving you an idea.
In a live discussion, you have your students and yourself on video talking to each other at the same time. You organize the meeting for a certain time or you even organize it spontaneously depending on student need. Basically, it’s like any sort of classroom discussion where you can pose a question or a student poses a question and you discuss.
What’s the difference? The only difference between this kind of discussion and a classroom discussion is that your students are sat “in front of you” on their devices instead of immediately in front of you. You may also not have students able to be online with you all at the same time for any number of reasons. This online discussion can also be through video or text.
What’s the same? You’ll still have students who are there but do not participate. Check my post about getting quiet students talking if you want to learn how to improve this. You’ll also be able to see all of the students that are there and respond to their thoughts and provide feedback in real-time.
Whoa, asynchronous? Now we’re getting fancy! Asynchronous is just a fancy way of saying that you have a discussion at different times. This again allows for you or a student to pose a question or a thought and then allow students to respond.
What’s the difference? As I’ve said before, unlike a standard classroom discussion, you’re having the discussion over a much longer period of time. The discussion may be over several days instead of a short lesson or group discussion time. It again may also be through video or text.
What’s the same? Students still can reply to each other and you can provide feedback. You can more easily track who has participated and who has not based on who has responded in writing or with a video.
Which Apps and Programs Do I Use?
There are so many options out there. Which ones are worth your while and which are not. I am not affiliated with any of these nor do I get any sort of special offer for writing about these.
Flipgrid now just Flip
Quite easily my favorite app and website for asynchronous virtual classroom discussions.
What’s so great about Flip?
- It’s SO easy to use. I’ve had 1st graders use it, and a few kindergarten teachers have also reported using it with their students.
- Written prompts or video prompts – a teacher can create a video asking the question, there is also a text-to-speech feature that will read written questions out loud
- Students can easily respond to each other
- Integration with workflow apps like Google Cassroom
- Can limit the length of student responses
- Media attachments to engage students with video, pictures, etc.
- Allows teachers to approve responses before they are posted for everyone to see
- can be kept private based on email or a password
- Asynchronous discussion
This is another favorite of mine since I use Google Classroom to send and collect assignments. In Google Classroom, when you click on Create, one of the options is “Question.”
What’s so great about Google Classroom Questions?
- Students can add responses and reply to each other
- Written responses
- Easily track who has responded
- View how many times a student responds and what they say
Another free tool, but unlike the others, this one is for LIVE discussions. It does have its drawbacks and there are specific settings that help to maintain student privacy.
What’s so great about Zoom?
- Live virtual classroom discussions
- Your whole class can be on at once for free
- chat feature and video feature
- teachers can mute all students until you’re ready for responses
- can be password protected
- control who is in the discussion
There are many other options for live discussions like Google Hangouts Meet that normally is not free but Google has made free until July 2020. Loom is another live discussion platform as well as Skype. Loom and Skype, as of this writing, I have never used with students and as such cannot recommend them or provide any insight on them.
Another asynchronous virtual classroom discussion platform is Seesaw. Seesaw is best for K-2 students, and has many features. I dhave used it in the past, and I have had students discuss with it in the past. If you teach primary, Seesaw or Flipgrid are what I would recommend.
So What Type of Virtual Classroom Discussion Should I Use?
Live discussions allow for instant feedback. Asynchronous discussions allow students more time to formulate thoughtful responses and to respond when they have access to the internet. Not all of your students will have access to the internet at all times.
If you only use live discussions, many students will not be able to directly interact with you and other students in discussion. If you only use asynchronous discussions, students may have a misconception and need immediate feedback.
I would recommend using both types: live and asynchronous.
Do you have any burning questions about conducting virtual classroom discussions in your distance learning or virtual learning classroom? Post them in the comments!