What is a large group interactive online session?
Suggested class size: 40 – 100
Suggested length: up to 60 minutes
The objective is to have an engaging session of meaningful presentation interspersed with discussion, questioning and interactions. In the current framework of teaching, lectures should be ‘chunked’ into smaller screencasts and other learning resources that students can complete at their own pace. Where appropriate you may find that adopting a Flipped Approach to learning is effective. Bring students together to drill more deeply into a topic and apply lessons as a group.
Good teaching practice remains the same as on-campus teaching: make use of questioning, manage class discussions and tasks, and aim to foster an active learning experience rather than a passive one.
What activities can I use with large groups?
- Polling – set a question (multiple choice or Yes/No) to your students and gather their responses. Make this more efficient by using your slides to hold the question and answer information. See: Polling in Blackboard Collaborate | Polling in Microsoft Teams
- Third-party apps – you can share a link to a poll or quiz using apps like Mentimeter. Post the link in the chat and display the code for attendees to join on your slide. When they’ve responded, you can share the results to discuss by sharing your screen with the class. Sharing Screen (Teams Meetings) | Sharing Screen (Blackboard Collaborate).
- Competitive questions – inject a little fun into your session by getting your students to join a Kahoot, Quizizz or similar, which lets you gauge their understanding of a topic whilst keeping them engaged. Share your screen so that they can see the questions and respond using their mobile devices.
Using activities where the whiteboard is used by all of your students at once will become chaotic with large groups of students, so consider carefully what is appropriate for the size of your class. Similarly, the chat function of an interactive session may become difficult to follow and become very distracting if 100 attendees are engrossed in discussion whilst you are presenting. Think about how to use it effectively by dedicating time for discussion-based activity. Use clear signposting language to direct students' attention – for instance, you may decide to set a ground rule that the chat is only to be used for questions during the session.
- Video - As attendee numbers grow, so does strain on internet connectivity. Consider disabling attendees from using webcams or asking them only to turn them on if they are coming on microphone
- Audio - You may want to disable attendees from using audio (microphone) except at certain points of interaction. This minimises disruption from attendees interrupting or background noise from them not realising their microphone is active.
- Chat - You might consider disabling chat entirely except for certain points where you've planned for questions and discussion to help you and students focus on the presentation until you're ready to interact with them.
- Annotation - Larger groups brings greater anonymity in a class. You might wish to disable attendees being able to use annotation tools on your slides.
How can I manage the chat when there are a lot of attendees?
As the size of a session increases, the role that chat plays may differ slightly as you are engaging with a much larger number of responses and it can quickly become overwhelming without thoughtful control. However, with careful planning you can make good use of chat to enrich students learning through enquiry.
- Inform your students before the session about how you expect them to behave in a session, establish rules about what they should be using the chat for and when to use it to minimise distraction caused by lengthy side channel discussions that take place separately from the presentation
- When presenting to many attendees with a large amount of chat activity, it may be unrealistic for you to keep up with the conversation whilst presenting too, so plan when you will pause in the presentation and look at responses in the chat and pick out key messages or thoughts
- Are you able to recruit someone to help you moderate the chat? If so, they can spend time in the webinar responding to discussion or to quick questions during the presentation. Perhaps ask them to highlight key contributions from attendees in a break in the presentation. (This is an optional but helpful resource if you have capacity but many of these sessions will likely be delivered alone. With some groups it may be appropriate to invite a student to 'manage' or moderate the chat.)
- Use a dedicated chat interaction slot. Pause in the presentation and ask a question, and take a short time to respond to the chat, highlighting key messages, responding to questions and inviting students onto microphone to expand upon their contribution
- Schedule question pick up points in your presentation. Do you pause between topics to respond to student questions? Or will you save responding to questions until the end? Tell your students when you plan to respond to their questions
How can I get feedback from my students to measure engagement?
Your students may enjoy the opportunity to experiment with the tools available. Manage your session by setting some ground rules and 'netiquette' regarding how you want them to interact with you and with their peers in the online environment. These steps help to foster a community within your online teaching by developing a shared understanding around expectations.
If you want students to respond to you in the chat but speak on microphone when invited, let them know in advance this is how the sessions will run, so that they can join prepared with appropriate equipment and a mindset of active participation.
Use the natural breaks in your presentation or between activities as a time to reflect on what has come before and to monitor the chat and respond to comments or questions. Build in these breaks using signposting language, by summarising where you are doing, or by outlining the next activity or stage. Remember to pause and take advantage of these natural breaks to create a change pf pace.
- Ask your students to use emojis like smiley faces or thumbs up to indicate their readiness to proceed to new topics or activities
- Periodically use feedback statuses to gauge the feeling of attendees in the webinar, or whether they agree or disagree with something (Blackboard Collaborate statuses)
- Use the raise hand feature to organise students coming onto microphone to ask or respond to questions (see: Raise Hand in Teams, Raise Hand in Blackboard Collaborate.)
- Setting Status in Blackboard Collaborate
- Using Chat & Emojis in Blackboard Collaborate
- Using Chat & Emojis in Teams Meetings
Is there an opportunity for smaller group activity? (Breakout Groups):
Breaking out into smaller groups during large sessions can be an effective way to allow students to interact with one another and research a topic. Just as in face to face teaching, when you monitor learning by walking the room or listening into student discussions, as a moderator you can move into the virtual breakout classroom groups to track their progress and steer conversation, but otherwise they work independently of the main group and the lecturer.
Once a breakout group activity is completed, bring the students back into the main room and invite discussion or group-by-group feedback and a presentation exercise. This allows for further student-led discussion and peer learning. Suggest that a single member of each group acts as the presenter for their group.