Create a Google document to facilitate productive online discussions

September 8, 2020 | Claudia Stanny

Create a Google document to facilitate productive online discussions

Breakout groups in a synchronous Zoom or WebEx class session can be a great way to engage students with one another and with course content and skills. However, breakout rooms can pose challenges students and faculty might not encounter in the face-to-face setting. 

Ensure that groups stay on task. Instructors can monitor on-task behavior in multiple groups during a face-to-face class but they can attend only one online breakout room at a time. A Teaching Assistant (TA) can help, but a TA can also monitor only one room at a time. Solution: Designate one student to serve as the discussion leader and scribe for the activity in each breakout room. Breakout room activities should have a specific report-out expectation, based on discussion and chat. The scribe should take notes and submit these to the instructor for evaluation, perhaps as part of a class participation grade. You can also ask students to record a comment related to their contribution to the discussion in the chat for the room. The scribe can then save the chat transcript and send it to the instructor as documentation of the contribution of each student by their name.

Notes: 

  • Rotate the scribe role among students with each activity. If you assign students to groups, vary which student you ask to serve as the scribe. If you randomly assign students to groups, their first task should be to identify a scribe for the session. Set clear expectations that all students will take the scribe role for some activities during the term. (Make this a component of class participation.)
  • Keep grading criteria for these submissions simple (e.g., a simple check/no-check system) and low-stakes to minimize the amount of time you must spend on grading and tracking these activities.

Provide clear instructions for small-group work. Unlike the face-to-face setting, once students are in breakout rooms, they no longer have a way to ask questions of the instructor and clarify the task. Solution: Create a Google doc (or a Word document that you upload as a shared document in your Google Drive) with explicit instructions for the group task. Include discussion prompts and a specific goal for the activity. Include a table for students to enter their names (to track who attended each group) and empty space for the scribe and/or group members to enter comments and notes based on their discussion.

Notes: 

  • Upload the instruction/collaborative document to your Google Drive. Share the document with all users who have the link to the documents (Google with create a link). Remember to give all users permission to edit the document. Copy the link onto the shared document (as a useful record). Share the link to the Google document in the chat window before students move into breakout rooms.
  • Because each room will create its own unique comments on the Google document, ask the scribe to download and save the breakout room document to their own computer. The scribe should then rename the file with the group number, and either email the document to you, upload it to a Canvas dropbox, or save it in their Google Drive and share it with you.
  • Alternative – shared folder in Google Drive. Alternatively, you can create a shared folder in your Google Drive for the activity, which will hold copies of the activity prompts, one for each group. For example, Group 1 Activity Notes, Group 2 Activity Notes, etc. When you share the folder, you also share access to all documents in the folder. Students then just need to access the correct file for their group. Their notes will automatically be saved in the Google document while they complete the activity, and you will have them all stored in one place. Again, remember to give permission to edit the document when you share it.

 

Resources

Lowe, D. (August 10, 2020). Improving breakout room discussions in online teaching by using collaborative documents. Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/improving-breakout-room-discussions-in-online-teaching-by-using-collaborative-documents/

09/08/2020 ajc