Building KU's Teaching and Learning Community

border: 2px solid; outline: none; width: 100px; float: left; margin: 1px 10px; height: 110px;Enhancing student-to-student communication
Carl Luchies, Mechanical Engineering

Back in pre-Covid days, I enjoyed using active learning to provide an effective educational experience using Team-Based Learning. Classroom communication primarily happened at: 1. the class level, during which concepts were discussed as a group, and 2. the team level, during which students, organized into small groups, collaborated to discuss, understand, and master the application of concepts to solve real world engineering problems. Valuable feedback on the learning process was gained by simply walking around the room to listen to small group discussions and address questions. Good communication at both levels happened organically within this pedagogy. 

Today we embrace the challenge of providing an effective educational experience remotely. Good communication between instructor-to-student and student-to-student can be challenging using tools such as Zoom. Student feedback last spring after classes were moved online indicated a lack of student-to-student interactions. Therefore, a goal of mine this semester was to provide several communication options to discover what works best for student-to-student interactions. I am experimenting with using two communication platforms simultaneously: Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Zoom is used for class level discussions. Utilities such as chat (public or private), breakout rooms (random or assigned), and polls are used to enhance the experience. Microsoft Teams is used for team level collaboration, enabling students, organized into small groups, to collaborate within private channels using chat, screen and file sharing. This design closely models the Team-Based Learning pedagogy I have used in the past: students benefit from class level discussions via Zoom and from team level small group discussions via Microsoft Teams. The GTA and/or instructor can “surf” the Microsoft Teams channels for feedback during class time.

I’m encouraged with the effect this approach has had on student-to-student communication. The students like having multiple ways to communicate. They view Microsoft Teams as an efficient way to communicate during class and 24/7. They report that using Microsoft Teams to communicate within their small group feels similar to talking to the students sitting around them in the classroom. Attendance has been good, but intentional effort is required to maintain both student engagement and interaction. It is both surprising and encouraging that for most class sessions, the majority of the students remain engaged in active learning for the entire class time. This is parallel to my experience using Team-Based Learning in an active learning classroom, which I choose to view as a sign of success.

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