Teaching online will never be the same as teaching in-person, and I don’t think we need to try and replicate every aspect of a live class for an online environment (online learning is it’s own thing, and that’s ok!) but I do think that good pedagogy is good pedagogy, and that sound teaching and learning strategies should be used in online education.
That’s why, when our school building shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak, I wanted to bring as much student voice and engagement to my online lessons as possible.
If you’ve been on a group conference call in the past few weeks (which I’m sure you have), you’ll know that it’s really tough to have a conversation with more than 4 people at a time. It’s hard to know where the sound is coming from and who’s talking.
Breaking a class up into smaller groups for activities is a logical solution to this problem, and if you have a slick video conferencing software like Zoom, you are all set! All you have to do is click the “breakout” button and your students are instantly sorted into smaller virtual conferences to chat.
Unfortunately for my students and me, our district does not have a slick conferencing tool like Zoom, and so I use Google Meet.
Now, I love Google Meet. I love the simplicity and the ever-live links, but in order to get my students to do group work there, I needed to get a little creative. Here is what I did:
1. I created a Google Doc that I could share with my students (“view only access”) and made a three row table for each group.
2. I created a Google Meet link for each group, and hyperlinked them into that Google Doc.
3. I created a shared Google Slide deck for each group with the instructions and assignment on it
*remember, each group will need their own set of slides to work on. You can "File" "Make a Copy"
4. I added the hyperlinked for the Google Slide decks into the Google Doc with “edit” access.
4. I broke my students up into groups, and typed their names into the Google Doc.
In our online live class I shared my screen and walked my 7th and 8th grade language arts students through the instructions for the assignment, I demonstrated how to complete it, then I showed the students how they were going to access their group Google Meet chat and shared Google Slide deck to work together in groups.
I told them to stay in the whole-class Google Meet as well, so that when they were finished with their group work we could easily come back together as a class to share. I also told them that the whole-class Meet would be a good place to find me if they had questions.
I held my breath, crossed my fingers, and dropped the link for the Google Doc into the chat box.
The students quickly joined their smaller Meet groups, opened their shared slide decks, and started talking and working through the assignment.
I know this because as soon as the students started group work, I went to the Google Doc as well, opening a group’s Meet and slides and checking in to see how they were doing. Then I would close those tabs and open the next group’s.
Honestly, it felt a little bit like walking around the classroom. Could I see what everyone was doing at the same time? No. But can I ever really do that in a classroom?
At one point, a student jumped back onto the whole-class Meet and asked if I could join their group to answer a question. I was able to quickly switch over to their link and help them with what they needed, then go back to the group I was checking on before.
It was a lot of closing and opening tabs, but it worked!
When it looked like most groups were finishing, I asked everyone to come back to the whole-class Meet, and within seconds they were all there. Then, one by one, students took control of the “present” function and went through the work their group had done, sharing it with the entire class.
After we had finished, I asked the class how they thought the lesson went and if they would want to do something like it again. A resounding, 100% yes from everyone.
In conclusion, group work can be great online. If you can afford to use a tool like Zoom that has a breakout button - do that. If not, this Google Meet workaround is free, and not too much trouble.