Encouraging thoughtful participation (Teaching Tip)

Teaching synchronously online poses unique challenges for encouraging thoughtful participation. The ability to foster student participation is especially true if you teach a face-to-face course simultaneously with students attending the course online. We asked ISU Faculty (and surveyed the literature) to share these strategies for engaging students.

  1. Build community. It is challenging to volunteer an idea if you do not know the others in your class. Consider icebreakers where students first discuss in smaller groups of students in online breakout rooms. Then, use collaborative signals in the large group, such as thumbs up or hands raised, to cue “I agree” or “I have a question.” (Megan Myers, World Languages and Culture).
  2. Communicate expectations. Tell students in advance that you expect them to participate in the discussion. If possible, provide the prompt before the discussion. Rather than beginning discussion within the large group, start with 5-15 minutes in smaller person breakout groups. Instruct the students to determine a recorder (i.e., a student with first name closest to the letter Z or the person with the most significant number of pets) who would then share one idea during the whole class portion of the session. (Amanda Baker, School of Education).
  3. Use collaborative notetaking tools. For large or small group exercises, create a shared notetaking tool, such as Google Docs, with the prompt and space for breakout groups to type their responses. At the end of the activity, the participants have a crowd-sourced list of ideas or notes. This action also allows the instructor to clarify any misconceptions or call on a student group to elaborate on particular items. (Idea contributed by many! Monica Lamm, Chemical and Biological Engineering and CELT Faculty Fellow, Clark Coffman, Genetics, Development, and Cell Biology and CELT Faculty Fellow, and Karen Bovenmyer, CELT).
  4. Consider not discussing! If you want to get a “pulse” on the students’ knowledge or attitude in the class, consider strategically using the chat window or a poll rather than large or small group discussions. Pose a question for the students to respond to in the chat window. Or display a problem with plausible solutions. Ask students to use the emoticons on Webex or Zoom to “vote” for the correct answer. (Lesya Hassall, CELT).
  5. Explain the why of discussing. Lastly, inform students that you value their perspectives and explain why you ask for their participation—seeing the why behind discussions can positively influence their participation.

Have an idea to share? Email it to celt@iastate.edu, and we will include it in our Instructional Strategies.

With a joy for teaching,
Sara Marcketti, Director
Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching


Full Teaching Tip

View the published CELT Teaching Tip: Encouraging thoughtful participation (August 28, 2020 – Constant Contact) website.

Prefer a Print version?

To view the Teaching Tip as a printable document with web addresses, download the CELT Teaching Tip for August 28, 2020 (PDF).