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Ways of facilitating small-group discussions in physically-distanced learning spaces
Time and Effort
|Instructor Prep Time||Medium|
|Student Activity Time||Medium|
|Instructor Response Time||Low|
|Complexity of Activity||Medium|
Small-Group Discussions provide students the opportunity to share ideas or opinions without having to address the entire class. Small-group discussions range in levels of structure. A simple small-group discussion asks students to divide into small groups and democratically discuss a prompt provided by the instructor. Groups often nominate a member to report highlights from their discussion to the entire class. Facilitating a highly-structured small-group discussion may take more planning but may also provide a richer and more inclusive experience for students. The elements of small-groups discussions that can be structured include the following:
- Group member roles (e.g. note-taker, devil's advocate, expert, spokesperson, etc.),
- Turn-taking rules for speaking (e.g. passing an object that permits speaking or losing a token each time a member speaks), and
- Team or individual discussion question worksheets to submit to the instructor.
Use it when you want...
- To create an opportunity for students to listen to and practice comments with a peer,
- To increases students’ willingness and readiness to speak in a larger group,
- To improve the quality of students’ contributions, or
- To engage students in a warm-up activity before a whole-class discussion.
What students will need
- Laptop, or tablet, or mobile phone
- Top Hat mobile app installed on a 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 Small-Group Discussions within a classroom with a physical distancing layout.
- Identify an engaging question or problem that has many potential responses. Try responding to the question yourself.
- Select the desired approach and prepare the technology to facilitate the activity (ex. Create a shared Google Doc for each group, create Top Hat questions, or set up a Blackboard Collaborate Ultra session for the class.
- Set up students into small groups. Note: Consider limiting the group size to 2-3 students. 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.
- Pose the discussion question(s) to the class verbally and in writing.
- Option 1: Project question(s) on screen in classroom
- Option 2: Share questions(s) via a Google Doc or Canvas page or Blackboard Collaborate Ultra.
- Depending on what you judge is most feasible, direct students to one of these options to facilitate their group discussions.
- Option 1: Students speak with one another across the empty seats.
- Option 2: Give students the URL for a shared Google Docs to share their thoughts with their group. Assign a group member as the Reporter to share the outcomes of the discussion.
- Option 3: Direct students to log in to Canvas using their laptop/mobile phone and enter Blackboard Collaborate Ultra. Create breakout groups spaces and have students have their discussions until the chat tool. Assign a group member as the Reporter to share the outcomes of the discussion. 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.
- Students share responses in larger class discussion.
- Option 1: Students remain in their seats and share their responses (making sure students stand up and speak loudly enough for all students to hear).
- Option 2: Students use the Top Hat discussion question type to share their positions with the class while remaining in their seats.
- Option 2: The instructor displays the Google Doc on the screen ane facilitates a discussion while students remain in their seats.
- Review and synthesize results. Draw conclusions from activity or use results to guide another activity in response.
- 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.
Louisiana State University. Active Learning While Physical Distancing. URL: https://go.wisc.edu/03oyks.