Teach in Person

Managing active learning in a physically distanced classroom

While it may feel awkward at first, some creative problem-solving can allow faculty to engage students actively in their learning despite physical distance. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Whole Class Discussion is still possible through physical distancing, as students can remain in their seats and discuss ideas and questions posed by you and each other. Distance and masks can make comments difficult to hear, but clear protocols for discussion (do not interrupt, listen to others, speak clearly) can support effective conversation. Consider designing provocative and challenging questions that engage students’ critical analysis, interpreting visual or audio content together, and / or requiring students to come prepared with commentary and responses to material reviewed before class. 

Polling works well in any classroom situation, as free softwares like Poll Everywhere or Kahoot! allow students to use their own phones to participate from their seats. Responses present live and in a variety of ways (e.g. multiple choice, open response, word cloud). Effective polling questions engage students by asking about their opinions or experiences (and thereby helping them connect to content), posing tough problems that get them thinking, and offering moments of levity and community in the classroom. 

Twitter for in-person classes works similar to the chat function in Zoom. Students can ask questions and comment on a Twitter feed that is either displayed or open on their devices for all to see. You should create a dedicated class Twitter handle, and ensure all students have access. It is also important to keep privacy concerns in mind: you and your students may wish to set up a classroom/professional account separate from your personal accounts. 

Group Brainstorming: Have one student go to the board (or use large sticky paper) to record what the group is discussing. It may be loud, but some patience with the noise will be offset by the benefits of group collaboration.

Similarly, you may use small post-it notes for group brainstorming. Students take turns putting their ideas on the wall or the whiteboard, reading others’ contributions before adding their own. After everyone has posted their notes, one student in the group takes a picture and sends it to the others for discussion.

Collaborative mind-mapping is both pedagogically sound and able to be done in a distanced classroom space. Tools like Mindmeister can allow students to collaborate on creating a digital mind map.

“Gallery walk” Version 1: Students generate ideas or responses to a topic in groups, which are written down and sorted under various “headings” and placed around the classroom (typically with large poster paper). Students then circulate and read one another’s ideas. 

“Gallery walk” Version 2: prompts are placed around the room and students circulate and respond in writing to each prompt on poster paper. To maintain a safe environment, stagger the “walk” itself and/or provide each student with sticky notes to write on and paste (to prevent shared contact points). 

Collaborative Notetaking: Have each group member work on their individual laptops in a collaborative application like Google Docs (this can be accomplished by creating a stand-alone Google Doc in Google Drive, or working through the “Collaborations” page in Canvas: learn more here). They can partly write and partly discuss their problem-solving processes. You can also project a Google Doc and have the class work together on it.

Physical Movement in general has been shown to help students feel more comfortable in a space, and can specifically help alleviate the weirdness of physical distancing. Students might sit or stand in response to a polling question, take an in-place movement break, or take turns going up to the board. Find ways to help students embrace the space, rather than be worried in it.

In studio classes, you and your students may want to invest in a laser pointer so that you can point to specifics in an art object without approaching it or each other.

The following set of infographics can also help you think through various course and classroom arrangements as you imagine your teaching in Fall 2020: https://www.clemson.edu/otei/fall2020-academic-models.html

UPDATE: We've got new information on the classroom technology available in classes for the fall semester. Click here to download this short guide.

Citation and Additional Resource

Some material on this page was adapted from the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching. Additional ideas can be found here: https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/2020/06/active-learning-in-hybrid-and-socially-distanced-classrooms/.

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