Facilitating Send-a-Problem active learning activities in physically-distanced learning spaces
Time and Effort
|Instructor Prep Time||Medium|
|Student Activity Time||Medium|
|Instructor Response Time||Low|
|Complexity of Activity||Medium|
Send-A-Problem has each group receive a problem, try to solve it, and then pass the problem and solution to a nearby group. The next group works to solve the problem without looking at the previous group’s answer. After several passes, groups analyze, evaluate, and synthesize responses and report the best solution to the class.|
Use it when you want...
- To provide opportunities for students to solve problems and evaluate solutions,
- To have students practice and learn from each other about the thinking skills required for successful problem-solving,
- To help students compare and discriminate between multiple solutions, or
- To get students to explain/defend their decisions.
What students will need
- Laptop, or tablet, or mobile phone
- Classroom with campus wireless connection
- Resources for student access to computers
The following workflow is meant as guidance for how you can facilitate a Send-a-Problem learning activity within a classroom with a physical distancing layout.
- Determine the number of problems you will need to have all groups working simultaneously.
- Decide how to present the problem. Consider attaching each issue to a file folder or envelope into which groups can then insert their solutions.
- Think carefully about time limits and the order in which students should pass the problem.
- Develop handouts for each problem to guide students’ analysis using Google Docs and/or create a Blackboard Collaborate Ultra session in which students will work collaboratively.
- Form groups of 2-3 students, describe the activity, give instructions, and answer questions. Note: Groups larger than 2-3 people are encouraged to use text-based chat features instead of speaking to one another to reduce the noise volume in the room and to prevent shouting across long distances between students.
- Share the method students will use to work collaboratively on the activity.
- Option 1: Students speak with one another across the empty seats.
- Option 2: Groups follow a link that creates a new version of the template in Google Docs. The document is shared among the group members and with the instructor.
- Option 3: Direct students to the Canvas course space and into the Blackboard Collaborate Ultra session. Create breakout rooms spaces for each group. Note: Breakout groups are only available in sessions with 250 or fewer attendees. You can create up to 20 breakout rooms. There is no limit to the number of attendees you can put in each group.
- Distribute a different problem to each group. Ask each group to discuss the issue, generate possible solutions, choose the best solution, and record their response in the folder or envelope.
- Call time and instruct teams to sends the URL for their Google Doc to the next group. Each group should receive a new question.
- Upon receiving new problems, students again brainstorm responses and record results until time runs out. They pass the issue to a new group. Repeat the process as many times as it seems useful.
- The final group reviews the responses, synthesizes the information, and adds any additional information.
- The activity concludes as teams report on the responses contained in the folder they evaluated. As groups report out, add any points that groups missed, and reinforce correct processes and solutions.
- Review the outcomes of the activity.
Accessibility and Room Considerations
- Classroom furniture is not to be rearranged to facilitate activities. If you need a different general assignment classroom to meet your instructional needs, contact your curricular representative.
- If students are to move around the room during an activity, consider the mobility, location, equipment, and furniture needs of all students.
- The physical distance between students (particularly in large lecture halls) may make it difficult for students to hear one another when they are asked to speak.
- This same physical distance may increase the noise level in the room as students try to speak to one another. This noise level may cause issues for some students. To this end, it is recommended that group size be limited to pairs (ideally) or triads at most. Activities requiring larger group sizes should utilize text-based chat solutions like those found in Blackboard Collaborate Ultra.
- The technologies recommended here should meet most campus accessibility requirements. However, you should check with the McBurney Disability Resources Center for guidance on any specific accommodations for your students.
Barkley, Elizabeth F. et al. Collaborative Learning Techniques A Handbook For College Faculty. Wiley, 2014. pp. 232-237.