Hands of students completing a cloud-shaped puzzle which reads "Online Collaboration"

Up and Running with Remote Group Work

A Case for Group Work

Group work can elicit negative reactions from instructors and students alike. Often enough, students groan about doing it and instructors dread grading it. The process is ripe for communication breakdowns resulting in stress from both perspectives. On top of this, the digital learning environment tends to compound these issues. Why then is group work so prevalent?

The answer is that, when done well, group activities help foster engagement and build relationships. Collaborative work helps students develop important skills like effectively articulating ideas, active listening, and cooperation with peers. Collaborative assignments correlate strongly with student success positioning them as one of eight high-impact practices identified by the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Making group work a worthwhile experience for students requires extra consideration and planning, but the positive gains are worth the effort.

Designing Group Work for Student Success

How can we design collaborative activities that are a quality learning experience for students? Scaffolding makes sure students are confident in their understanding of and ability to execute the activity. UW-Extension has created a helpful guide on facilitating group work that outlines three key suggestions to get you started. First, be sure students understand the purpose of the activity, in terms of what they are supposed to learn from it and why it is a group activity. Second, provide support so students have the necessary tools and training to collaborate. You are clear how and when students are to collaborate or provide suggestions. You ensure students understand how to use the needed technologies. Finally, providing opportunities for peer- and self-evaluation can alleviate frustrations of unequal workload by having students evaluate their own and their peers’ contributions. As challenges arise, guide groups toward solutions that are flexible but fair to all members. When embarking on group projects, be prepared to provide students with guidance about what to do when someone on the team is not meeting the group’s expectations.

One example of this as you design your group projects is to ask yourself whether it’s important students meet synchronously. If so, how might you design the project for students with caregiving responsibilities or with full-time or “off hours” work schedules? These students may not be able to meet as regularly or at the same time as other students. See below for how this might play into assessing the group project. You might also consider whether all students need to hold the same role within the group, or if their collective project be split up based on group roles.

Consider how the group dynamics can impact student experiences. Helping students come up with a plan for group work and methods of holding one another accountable promotes an inclusive and equitable learning environment. Consider any of these tools to help your students coordinate these efforts:

Assessing Group Work

Equitable, specific, and transparent grading are crucial to group-work success. The Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence of Carnegie Mellon University has a great resource on how to assess group work, including samples. This resource breaks grading group work down into three areas. First, assess group work based on both individual and group learning and performance. Include an individual assessment component to motivate all students to contribute and help them to feel their individual efforts are recognized. Also assess the process along with the product. What skills are you hoping students develop by working in groups? Your choice of assessment should point to these skills. One way to meet this need is to have students complete reflective team, peer, or individual evaluations as described above. Finally, outline your assessment criteria and grading scheme upfront. Students should have clear expectations of how you will assess them. Include percentages for team vs. individual components and product vs. process components as they relate to the total project grade.

Tools for Working Collaboratively

Picking the right tool among a plethora of what is available is an important step. First, consider how you would like students to collaborate for the activity. Is it important that students talk or chat synchronously, asynchronously, or both? Will students share files?

The following suggestions include the main collaboration tools supported at UWGB. Click to expand the sections for the various tools below.

If you are interested in learning more about any of these tools, consider scheduling a consultation with a CATL member.

Canvas discussions are one option for student collaboration. Operating much like an online forum, discussions are best suited for asynchronous communication, meaning students can post and reply to messages at any time, in any order. If you have groups set up in Canvas, you can create group discussions in which group members can only see one another’s posts. You can also adjust your course settings so that students can create their own discussion threads as well.

If you’ve never seen VoiceThread, imagine a PowerPoint presentation in which students can leave audio, video, and text comments on every slide. It is a great tool for virtual presentations, as students can pre-record narration for slides and then embed their projects in Canvas pages, discussions, etc. to share with the rest of the class. Keep in mind however that it may take students longer to grow comfortable with VoiceThread than a tool like Canvas discussions or Office 365, which they may already be familiar with using.

Office 365 refers to the online Microsoft Office Suite, including Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. Students can work collaboratively and asynchronously on projects using online document versions of any of these software, which updates changes in nearly real time. Microsoft Office 365 has partial integration with Canvas, allowing students to set up and share Office documents from within Canvas using the Collaborations feature. Students will have to log in to Office 365 through their Canvas course before they can use most features of Canvas and Office 365 integration.

Collaborate Ultra is one of two web conferencing tools supported by the university, the other being Teams. Collaborate Ultra has full integration with Canvas, meaning students can access meetings and recordings from within a Canvas course. As such, it is generally easy to for students to access and use. One downside to Collaborate Ultra is that it is a purely synchronous meeting tool, so students will have to coordinate their schedules or find other ways of including members that may not be able to attend a live meeting.

Microsoft Teams is a collaboration tool that combines web conferencing, synchronous and asynchronous text communications (in the form of chat and posts), and shared, collaborative file space. Students can create a new team in MS Teams for their group project or operate in a channel of an existing class team. Microsoft Teams also has partial integration with Canvas, meaning students and instructors can create and share Teams meeting links within the New Rich Content Editor of Canvas (in pages, announcements, discussions, etc.).

Putting It into Practice

When we ask students to work collaboratively, it’s important we reveal the “hidden curriculum” by building in the steps they should take to be a successful team. As a starting point, asking students to answer these questions helps clarify the work of the group:

  • “Who’s on the team?”
  • “What are your tasks as a group?”
  • “How will you communicate?” (Asynchronously? Synchronously?)
  • “How will you ensure everyone can meet the deadlines you set?”
  • “If or When someone misses a meeting, how will you ensure that everyone has access to the information they’ll need to help you all complete the project on time?”
  • “When will you give each other feedback before you turn in the final assignment?”

For a ‘bare bones’ group assignment, take the above considerations on designing and assessing groupwork into account and create a worksheet for the student groups to fill out together. Create a Canvas group assignment to collect those agreements, assign it some points that will be a part of the whole project grade, and set the deadline for turning it in early so that students establish their plan early enough for it to benefit their group. Scaffolded activities that give students enough structure and agency is a delicate balance, but these kinds of guided worksheets and steps can help students focus their energy on the project, assignment, or task once everyone is on the same page.

Let’s keep the conversation going!

Do you have some tried and tested strategies for helping students coordinate and complete group work online? Send them our way by emailing: CATL@uwgb.edu or comment below!

CATL Vlog: Make Your Videos Engaging

Our first blog post on videosUsing Video Responsibly, focused on some guiding best practices to consider when creating videos for your class. While the bulk of that previous post focused on ways to add low-bandwidth alternatives to your videos in order to make content accessible for students without reliable high-speed internet, the end of the post teased strategies for keeping your students actively engaged while watching the videos. We know that many of you have found ways to use video to not just share information with your students. You are using video to check comprehension, frame discussions, and support student success initiatives. Today, we’re following up on that tease and spotlighting some of the ways UW-Green Bay faculty are transforming videos from passive learning to active engagement with their students, and, to do it, we’re turning our blog into a vlog! 

Low-Tech Solutions 

The idea of adding engagement to your videos may seem daunting, but there are a few low-tech ways built right into Canvas that can make it easier. We’ll demonstrate how to use quizzes and discussion boards with video, and the CATL team would be happy to brainstorm solutions with you specific to your teaching style and course content.  

Student Success 

Another low-tech way to help your students engage with you and your videos is to teach student success skills. One of the challenges of teaching and working remotely is not seeing your students in person. It can be hard to have conversations about success strategies. But short videos on success tips specific to your class can help students engage with your course and feel supported by you, even when they are at a distance. This video specifically showcases notetaking of a video lecture, but you could build a library of short success strategy videos tailored to your class including reading and annotating texts, providing peer review feedback, posting to discussion boards, and preparing for exams. 

 

Medium-Tech Solutions 

Those who feel a little more adventurous and confident with technology, may want to explore two tools that integrate with Canvas. Both tools can take an existing video from your My Media library and add interactive elements to the playback experience, transforming that experience from passive to active. Instead of placing your video into an active context like a Discussion or Quiz as suggested above, these tools let you place the action into the video. The first tool we’ll demonstrate is Kaltura Video Quizzes, a simple tool built into My Media in Canvas that enables you to prompt your students with formative quiz questions in your videos. 

The next tool we are demonstrating is PlayPositPlayPosit takes the concept of in-video interactions and expands it far beyond what is capable with Kaltura Video Quizzes. It’s something of a Swiss Army knife for adding interactive elements to videos. PlayPosit introduces an in-video-player note-taking interface, in-video discussion boards, polling, attention-drawing video hotspots, and several additional quiz question types. Learn more about PlayPosit and how you can join UWGB’s pilot of the tool by watching the PlayPosit “bulb” below: 

UWGB started its PlayPosit pilot in Fall 2020, and it has already won over a couple of faculty champions. UWGB’s own Jolanda Sallmann, Associate Professor of Social Work, was kind enough to record a video testimonial about her use of PlayPosit for inclusion in our vlog. 

Going Deep 

There are A LOT of tools out there for working with video, and we want to wrap up this vlog by quickly highlighting a few more. Our last video shows two tools available for dipping your toes into the world of video editing and highlights toolthat can let your students comment on your videos with videos of their own. 

Stay in Touch!

We want to thank you again, in text-form this time, for reading and watching this vlog post. Please reach out to CATL if you have any questions about engaging uses for video in your classes. We’d love to hear about what you do with your videos to keep students engaged and what excites you the most about these strategies, so please leave a comment below, or check out the discussion boards in CATL’s Solidarity Café. 

A chat bubble made of yellow note cards

Connecting Online

By the time this post is published, we’ll be past the halfway mark of the fall semester. Adding the spring semester to this fall, that’s around a full semester of mostly online, virtual synchronous, and blended/hybrid instruction. These are instructional modalities that some instructors and students are disinclined to use. But here we are, nonetheless, making the best of things. Students are continuing their educational journey in what are for many new and uncomfortable environments, while instructors are wrestling with providing an equitable learning experience through technology and perseverance.

Illustration of a giraffe with text which reads "Giraffes have enormous hearts" and a speech bubble from the giraffe saying "I care too much."It is perhaps because of the focus on providing remote students all of the same information and activities that we can sometimes forget to include “us.” Online  education can often devolve into a series of tasks that one checks off. We meander into holding virtual correspondence courses, silently reviewing student homework, assessments, and discussion posts and assigning scores.

When we’re teaching in-person, having a side conversation with students before or after class or an informal chat during group worktime can be a trivial task to complete and also be rewarding for students and instructors at the same time. Office hours, although perhaps underutilized, provide another opportunity for ad-hoc in-person engagement with students. But what happens when we don’t actually see our students? Where do ad-hoc and interpersonal conversations go? Some people may argue the lack of that type of engagement with our students and them with us is part and parcel of online instruction.

Online students choose this environment.”

—Made-up instructor used for narrative purposes

Even if one does subscribe to that approach, the nature of our current educational environment includes many remote students who did not choose their current learning environment. They prefer in-person education, talking with their peers and instructors, and a structured educational experience. Online students prefer personal interactions with their instructors as well! In fact, it’s been shown to positively relate to student grades (Jaggars, S. & Xu, D., 2013)

So how does one recreate the feeling of connectedness, ad-hoc conversations, and interpersonal engagement with remote students? We’ve provided some examples of how instructors can do this while increasing their “there-ness” in courses, below.

Provide timely feedback on student work

Assignment and assessment feedback can serve double duty for instructors. First, feedback allows students to correct misconceptions, assess the amount of effort they’re putting into the course and perhaps increase it, and be better prepared for subsequent assessments. Second, feedback allows instructors to form an interpersonal connection with students. Depending on the subject matter and the course, feedback may be the only personal connection instructors form with students. Feedback can provide an opportunity to provide personalized instruction to students that may not be available through other means.

Consider including the student’s name when providing feedback, even if the feedback is somewhat canned. It personalizes the feedback, lets students know they’re “seen,” and communicates nonverbally that the student is “part of the community of people…” (Willemsen, 1995, p. 15). As Kent Syverud (1993) points out, “who is the one teacher in your entire life who made the biggest difference for you — who taught you so well that you still think about him or her as your best teacher. I bet that for almost all of us, that best teacher was someone who knew you by name” (p. 247).

An animated GIF of Fred Armisen in character toasting a bird on to a piece of bread.
“We put a bird on toast.”

Put a bird face (or voice) on it

Although not for everyone, instructors can add presence to their course through the incorporation of brief videos. We’re not referring to hour-long PowerPoint presentations, but rather short webcam recordings. These recordings can be used to introduce units, particularly challenging topics, or to serve as a way to deliver announcements to the class. In an example below, Prof. Matt Mooney (History at Santa Barbara Community College) uses videos at the start of a new modules to help students through sticky topics. Mooney visually communicates a historical phenomenon included in an upcoming module that students are known to struggle with.

An additional or alternative way to reinforce your course presence is through “video postcards.” The example below is from Fabiola Torres, Ethnic Studies professor at Glendale College, who uses video postcards to communicate with her students when she’s not readily available. In the example provided, Dr. Torres is at a conference and using her smartphone to record a brief message to her students.

Recordings like Dr. Torres’s reinforce to their students that their professor is in fact a real person and their course is not led by a robot. This process of “humanization” is shown to increase positive traits like trust and psychological safety in student-instructor relationships, which can help keep your students engage with the course long-term (Gehlbach et al., 2016).

For those disinclined to recording video of themselves, recording just audio may provide a happy middle-ground. Besides providing a human connection that written text cannot, audio recordings can also help prevent misinterpretations in tone that reading text can lead to. Because of this, audio recordings are often paired with feedback to students on their work. However, audio recordings don’t need to be restricted to feedback. Some experienced online instructors choose to use audio recordings throughout their courses to introduce topics, explain difficult concepts, and provide and additional way learners can engage with content.

Communicate regularly

Another way to engage and build rapport with remote students is through regular communication and announcements. This messaging can help students not accustomed to being in a less structured learning environment to stay on track, and also allow for ad-hoc responses from students that may be silently struggling. Irregular communication was identified as a large problem by students following the spring semester and is often over-looked as a simple way to address student disengagement and feelings of disconnection.

Some areas that can lend themselves well to regular communication are introducing new units or topics, shining light on a difficult concept or something that came up in discussion or through private communication, kudos to share with the class to call out quality student work and call out what quality work looks like for those that aren’t quite there yet, and recapping units that the class is finishing up to reinforce critical concepts.

Message students who…

When working with students in-person, it can be fairly trivial to let students know it would be in their best interest to contact you regarding their graded work. However, when teaching remotely this can seem much more challenging. Did they read the feedback that was provided? Who knows?

Regardless of whether they read your feedback, you can still make it clear they really ought to get in touch. This can be accomplished through the Message Students Who feature in Canvas. This feature allows instructors to message any students in their classes that meet certain criteria for a particular graded activity. Options include students that have not submitted anything for the graded activity, those that haven’t been graded yet, and those with scores lower or higher than a specified threshold. More information is available here.

Office hours

Although instructors aren’t likely to be offering office hours in-person this year, it’s still possible to hold “live” office hours through virtual meetings. Consider providing a recurring virtual meeting to your students during your scheduled office hours. This can allow your students to take advantage of the focused help that office hours provide, along with the non-verbal cues a video call can provide and include the tone missing from textual communication.

The meeting could be set up as a Collaborate Ultra meeting in Canvas, an open Teams or Zoom meeting link provided in your course, an Outlook Calendar invite to your students containing the room link, or through some other method.

If Discussions are used, use Discussions

The discussions area of Canvas can be another place where instructors can engage with their students. If you’re already using Discussions in your course but don’t participate, consider how you could. This provides another opportunity for students to connect with you as sage or guide and gives you an opportunity to turn the discussion in the proper direction when needed and correct misconceptions.

Sound like more work than you’d like to take on? It can be. That’s why it’s important to manage the time spent in discussions. Set aside twenty or thirty minutes a couple times per week with the intent of replying to discussion posts. In the time you’ve set aside,  post where you feel you’ll have the greatest impact, not in response to every student.

Two people looking at a digital display of information on flight times.

Make a schedule

Veteran online instructors often integrate a to-do list for their classes into their own weekly schedules. This can help in keeping oneself accountable and on task and help segregate class-time from other responsibilities. A schedule might include things like, ready/post in weekly discussion, make weekly announcement, contact at-risk students, send encouraging email, etc.

How do you “connect” with your students?

The information above is far from an exhaustive coverage of methods to make oneself visibly available and connected with one’s course. What methods do you implement? What has and hasn’t worked well? Questions about implementing something above or seen elsewhere? Drop by the Solidarity Café and share.

A number of "I VOTED" stickers

Preparing to Teach in the Context of the Election

Overlapping crises have framed our experience this fall and the election brings these crises into sharp focusPrinceton’s Bridging Divides Initiative and the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) write “amid a rising tide of political polarization, hate crimes, and widespread social mobilization, the United States is at a heightened risk of violence and instability going into the 2020 election.” This risk, they note “is further exacerbated by an economic contraction triggered by the global COVID-19 pandemic, which may now be posed for a second wave.” Instructors, students, and staff feel the impact of this instability and vulnerability alike. 

Whether or not the election itself is a relevant and teachable topic for your class, it will likely be a major influence on the lived experience of all of us. This post collects some information on how to work with the reality that the election hovers over all of us. Then, the post discusses some ways you may wish to incorporate it into your classroom. It ends with places to refer students. 

The election touches us all (but not equally) 

We all live within a context of increased stress as we approach the election. Much of this stress is outside our direct control. Depending on the identities one holds, they may also experience the increased stress of racist, homophobic, or otherwise marginalizing public discourse. Our experiences with the election are not equal. In this context, political polarization has increased the general perception of feeling dehumanized. Wall carry complicated feelings into the classroom but we do so unequally. 

To complicate matters, many instructors are already doing additional care work in their teaching and home lives. The election may bring on feelings of more care work to come. The University of Oregon has collected some self-care strategies and some ways to communicate care to students that you may find useful to employ in your classroom. The goal is not to increase the already high workload but rather to acknowledge the care work instructors are doing and offer strategies for doing it. 

Selfcare strategies 

Plan flexibility into your schedule: It may be helpful to look at your meetings and see which ones are crucial and which ones are not. Perhaps you can find ways to decrease your workload and find space to reflect, process, and breathe. 

Plan to process your emotions:If you haven’t already, identify people you feel you can contact to discuss your feelings about the election—even plan for when you’ll connect. 

Access resources that support mental and emotional health: The campus put together a “Coping and Emotional Well-being” page which serves as a hub for ideas regarding self-care as well as local and national resources that are available to members of the UWGB community. 

Communicate care to students 

Verbalize care: You may wish to put an announcement in Canvas that you acknowledge that the election is a stressful event and that you care about your students’ well being regardless of their political beliefs.  

Build flexibility into your class schedule: Assess the workload for the week of the election and see if there is possibility to build in some flexibility with deadlines. 

Refer students: You cannot solve all problems and may wish to share the resources at the bottom of this post with your students. 

If the election fits into your course content 

What role does your discipline play? 

Teaching about the election may not suit your classes. But, if it does, just about every discipline can help our students evaluate the platforms of our elected leaders from a critical perspectiveThe University of Michigan Center for Research in Learning and Teaching (CRLT) has put together some resources to help instructors think through how to facilitate lessons about the election from within their disciplines: 

As you prepare to facilitate discussion about the election, consider these questions: 

  • Which topics within my discipline might require special attention in light of the election? 
  • How might the candidate platforms be a resource for teaching and learning these topics? 
  • How might my discipline be impacted by policy decisions as a result of the election? 
  • What are the diverse perspectives and voices that characterize my field related to these topics, and how do I maintain some balance in presenting them? ​ 

Related Resources: 

How might your courses allow students to practice core democratic skills? 

Again, as the Michigan CRLT recommends, the classroom can be a place of informed and respectful dialogue amid a political context when this is all too rare. In that sense classrooms are vital democratic spaces. In addition to the content of our individual disciplines, there are overarching democratic skills that students can develop in courses across the University. These include: 

  • The ability to engage in respectful discourse and thoughtful argumentation 
  • The capacity to speak and listen in ways that promote collective learning and advance social good 
  • The skills of critical literacy and the ability to evaluate bias in text, discourse, and other mediums 

Related Resources: 

Where/how can I refer students? 

It is easy to feel alone when teaching remotely. But there are resources on campus where you can (and should) refer students. These resources are always available but the election may highlight the need for some of these resources. 

Discussing further 

The election affects us all but we may not all engage with it in the classroom in the same way. The purpose of this post is not to provide “the answer” for how to teach the importance of the election to students. Rather it acknowledges the election’s role as a framing element of our lives and offers multiple ways to engage with it at the personal, interpersonal, and disciplinary levels.  

Yet, it is not the final word. The Center wishes to hear about your ideas and experiences in incorporating the election into your classroom. Feel free to respond in the comments to this post. 

Also, the Solidarity Café—an asynchronous discussion space hosted by CATL—has some threads already started that carry forward the themes of this post, teaching about the election and handling the uncertainty in our work and home lives. 

Person rowing a small boat on calm waters

Re-Engaging Students Mid-Semester

Are you having a hard time reaching all of your students through your usual communication channels or are you unsure of ways to re-engage students who haven’t been turning in work? In our blog post last week, we collected resources about how to get feedback from your students at mid-semester to figure out what’s working and what might need to shift. This week, we want to give you some strategies for engaging with your students when they may be difficult to reach mid-semester. 

Here are our strategies for leveraging technology and tools to re-engage students: 

  1. Use transparent and consistent messaging strategies. Letting students know how you’re going to contact them early in the semester can help set this expectation, but if what you decided to use isn’t working as expected, try reaching out to the whole class with a duplicate message either:
  2. Use the “Message Students Who” tool built into the Canvas Gradebook. This feature allows you to just message students who haven’t submitted to an assignment or based on some other criteria. See how to do this here: https://community.canvaslms.com/t5/Instructor-Guide/How-do-I-send-a-message-to-students-from-the-Gradebook/ta-p/741 
  3. Record short, just-in-time-videos to help direct students to the things they should focus on for the week and in the upcoming weeks. Here’s how you can create videos using Kaltura My Media: https://uknowit.uwgb.edu/89306 
    • Consider also creating a page or schedule where students can see with all due dates listed for the course if you don’t have one already.
  4. Add due dates to assignments, discussions, and quizzes so that students are reminded via the “student todo list on the course homepage. 
  5. If you use conferences or ask your students to meet with you during the semester use the Canvas Scheduler to create appointment groupshttps://community.canvaslms.com/t5/Instructor-Guide/How-do-I-add-a-Scheduler-appointment-group-in-a-course-calendar/ta-p/1021
  6. If you used Navigate to create progress reports for your students around week 5, you can still create “ad hoc alerts” to help your students, who may need some additional assistance, to connect with their advisors.

What other scalable tips and tricks you can share to reach students? Let us know either by commenting here or sharing in the Solidarity Café.