Group Work in a Digital Class
Group Work in a Digital Class avatar

                As an instructor who builds his class around group work, I am excited for the possibilities that the digital classroom opens. In my F2F class, I always have an activity that allows the students to put the idea we just discussed into action. We always follow these activities up with a discussion about how the idea came through in the activity. While this structure has worked well, I have always thought these group activities would benefit from a slower and longer application of the idea.

 I think the main benefit in transferring these group activities online is time.  For instance, in my class today, I had students work in groups to write a brief speech on any topic they wanted (I urged a light-hearted topic given the sad events of last night). The rules for this assignment were simple: write a professional speech you could deliver to fellow students and sneak in a few logical fallacies. While the groups had an amazing time trying to mask fallacies with professional language and logical support, the discussion and sharing portion of the assignment had to be trimmed due to time constraints. If this activity was translated for an OWC, groups could collaborate on a google doc and in chat; this collaboration technique would also afford agency to those students who often get steamrolled in group conversations. Not only could students spend more time incorporating logical support, but other groups could visit and see how their peers are approaching the activity. The discussion/decompression aspect of the assignment could also be developed and allow more time for students to reflect prior to responding. I imagine all the wonderful conversation that could arise in the class discussion of these speeches, but I also wonder if that hilarity I witnessed in the classroom today would still be there.  With a creative activity like this, it is those rapid-fire conversations students have that make the activity so effective.  If I desynchronize an activity that is supposed to be fun—by my definition of fun—will those funny moments where students wittily respond to and build upon each other disappear? It is difficult for me to know for sure until I actually implement this activity online, but I guess I could always require a synchronous meeting or Zoom for the brainstorming portion.

I am also intrigued with how peer review will translate into the OWC.  I enjoy having a Q&A before each workshop, and I really enjoy hearing students have an honest “state of affairs” about their work. I know these conversations could be pushed into the digital space, but the synchronous nature of the F2F workshop is so appealing. I love hearing students give meaningful feedback; it feels like validation (they remembered my lecture!), so maybe this concern is more selfish. However, the one thing that I think will improve in this switch is the participation rate. I have noticed that my attendance seems to dip when it comes to workshops in my course. I imagine this is because students procrastinate and bail on class to avoid the guilt (even though I recommend they come regardless), but in the asynchronous online workshop, students could give feedback over the course a few days. This wider window could help those procrastinators catch up, and could facilitate a much higher participation rate. With how ubiquitous technology has become, and with so much of our daily communication happening in a digital space, it will be interesting to see how successful these conversations turn out to be.

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