I am teaching a purely online section of AP Calculus AB this year. One of the key things I am most grateful that I set up is a requirement that students record synchronous, small group discussions with their classmates. Here are the expectations that I’ve shared with students:
Small Group Google Hangout: Each week, you must independently coordinate a Google Hangout with two other classmates. You will record your Hangout via YouTube Live. This session should last about 30 minutes. In your session, you should focus on helping one another work through problems as you would do if you were tasked with completing a worksheet in class. The name of the game is collaboration and this is what I’ll be looking for! You should be guiding one another to gaining stronger understandings of the material.
I gain so much insight into individual and class needs by reviewing these videos. There is tremendous power in hearing students problem solve together and chat out problem spots with their peers. This is something I value most about the format of my flipped classroom. So when creating my online class, I asked myself how I could preserve some of this? And my solution was recorded small group video chats. Initially, I wasn’t so sure how this would go – would students know what to talk about, would they take it as seriously as they do sitting in class, would I need to provide strict guidelines for what they should do? But as we are well under way now, I am finding this component of class to be one of the most essential things that I would keep moving forward! In the first two weeks of class, I was able to model expectations when I led our full class synchronous Google Hangout. By the third week of class, students were expected to lead their own small group Google Hangouts. The only real instruction I gave them beyond teaching them the technical parts of setting up and recording a Google Hangout via YouTube Live was: use the session to get work done, collaboratively.
For each group chat submitted, I review the entire video and leave feedback to the group to clarify any questions asked and to correct any mistakes that I hear students chatting about. Though reviewing this assignment is timely, it is one of the most valuable components of class in terms of a way for me to intimately get to know students’ needs. There is a lot of power in hearing each student’s voice, hearing where they speak fluently versus areas marked by uncertainty and hesitation.
Honestly, I have been absolutely amazed by how much good work gets done by students in these 30 minute chats. The activity is entirely student-led and they are responsible for setting up their own guidelines for what they plan to accomplish during the hangout. Students are held accountable for responsibly organizing the session because they know they will need to submit the video link to me and they also know that I am going to take the time to watch their recording in its entirety and leave feedback that will be helpful. By asking good questions, they will get the most valuable feedback, and students quickly recognize this.
I brought up the importance of collaboration above. This is such an important component of my course design and I have stressed to my students over and over that an online class does not mean that you are learning alone! We are constantly chatting and interacting in Online AP Calculus, it is just the format that is different. So instead of asking your friend a question in class, students type that in the class Slack channel. Instead of me asking a student to come in for extra instruction for an individual need, I DM that student in Slack and will leave them a short video response if necessary. It is amazing how much we can do in the online environment and I’ve pretty much set up my entire course using only free tools!
But before closing this post, I wanted to quickly get back to what prompted me to write this post – the importance of student-led small group chats, recorded so that I can hear the discussion taking place. There is such power in listening to students chat out work with their peers and this is something that I wanted to highlight and take note of. As I move forward and explore more methods and tools, I cannot forget the importance of this simple idea.