Promoting active student participation and interaction in a virtual classroom
By: Ping Liu
California State University Long Beach
It is important to build a learning community in which students can actively participate and learn collaboratively despite language of instruction or subject matter. When students are engaged in active participation and interaction (Meyer, Rose & Gordon, 2014; Tomlinson, 2005; Vygotsky, 1986), they have opportunities to process information, negotiate meaning, and demonstrate learning individually or collaboratively. However, in an online setting, teachers may find it challenging to plan activities to promote active student engagement and interaction. Virtual instruction often turns into a one on one dialogue between a teacher and one or a few students with many others keeping camera off throughout a lesson. If only a few students participate, others may become disengaged or discouraged and gradually fall behind. This challenge also has a direct impact on informal assessment data collection and on actions teachers can take to facilitate learning based on data analysis. Therefore, this article explores how to increase active participation and interactive learning in teaching procedures of a lesson such as review or guided practice through using whiteboards. The sequenced activities may include three steps in an online platform gallery or speaker view: have all students demonstrate learning on whiteboards, choose students to share written work in class, and elicit peer questions/comments on student presentation/sharing. A sample segment of a third grade math lesson is highlighted in Figure 1 with some elaboration provided below.
Figure 1: Steps to actively engage all students in learning
Step 1: Have all students participate with whiteboards
To check student learning, prepare a question/prompt on a slide for communication and reference. Before asking students to respond on whiteboard (notebooks as backup), discuss the prompt to clarify the expectations. To support students in needs, present a word bank to help them complete the task within their capacity. Visuals can also be provided to help students connect to prior learning. Progress monitoring would be possible when students tilt screen to show their written work on whiteboard. Assistance can be given to any students during monitoring as needed. After students complete the task, have them bring their whiteboard close to camera for a screenshot, and the data can be saved for more detailed analysis to get to know each student later.
Step 2: Student presentation or active listening
After students complete the whiteboard task, any of them should be prepared for a presentation. A teacher can consider drawing name sticks or selecting a student to present based on the data collected in Step 1. Directions should be given or revisited regarding responsibilities of a presenter and all others during a presentation. A student presenter, in speaker view, shows/points at the written work during oral explanation. While the teacher facilitates, all others should be good listeners and get ready to offer peer feedback to evaluate the presented sample fractions, labeling and explanation in the given context.
Step 3: Peer interaction through evaluation
When a presentation is complete, any other students should be ready to respond by making comments, sharing what’s similar/different between their whiteboard work, or asking a question. Some students may be called to share their feedback. In doing so, the students switch their role from a listener to a speaker/presenter. Their evaluation contributes to informal assessment data, which can be used to make adjustments or provide clarification at the moment. Finally, a teacher may pose a question(s) to check all others’ response with thumbs up/down or via chat to get everyone involved.
In summary, without easy access to all students in a virtual environment compared to a physical classroom, teachers must find ways to hold students responsible in learning and promote active student participation and interaction. Building and applying a structure with the proposed steps can help students establish a sense of learning community where they are an active and responsible member as a listener, contributor or evaluator. Based on student participation and interaction, teachers have an opportunity to collect valuable assessment data and redirect instruction to help students reach learning goals.
Meyer, A., Rose, D. H., & Gordon, D. (2014). Universal design for learning: Theory and practice. CAST Professional Publishing.
Tomlinson, C. A. (2005). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Vygotsky, L.S. (1986). Thoughts and language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.