Active Learning on Zoom


The Biggio Center has long supported faculty implementing active learning into their courses. But how does one continue active learning with the switch to remote instruction? Every semester Dr. Grinberg implements an active learning game called Reacting to the Past in her World Literature course. “It’s a role-playing game where students have assigned character roles, often historical figures, and must communicate and collaborate to push their character’s agenda forward. It has been repeatedly shown that these games promote engagement with big ideas and improve intellectual and academic skills,” explained Dr. Grinberg.

Once Auburn University transitioned to remote instruction, Dr. Grinberg began wondering how to adapt the highly interactive activity to the Zoom platform. Instead of a full-blown game, which can take several weeks to organize, her class adopted a mini game which only required a week’s worth of work – one session about the background and another session for the actual game.

Using Miguel de Cervantes’s “The Two Damsels”, the students had to put together a mock trial for their Reacting to the Past assignment. Students had to prosecute and/or defend Marco Antonio, an “almost polygamous” young knight who leaves his “wife and betrothed” behind. “Students love this activity in the face-to-face environment. They say it’s the most interactive thing we do all semester and is a different way to study the text while still allowing them to fully grasp the concept.”

Dr. Grinberg asked students to choose their character and grouped them in Canvas so they could receive specific instructions for their preparation. Students were then tasked with a writing assignment in accordance with their character (the main characters prepared their opening statements, the witnesses wrote depositions, the lawyers and their assistants wrote a series of questions, etc.) and uploaded the document to Canvas a day before the trial.

“Up to this point, the activities would be somewhat similar to what I requested past students to do. This time though, we met in our virtual classroom and I asked the students to change their name to their character’s name.” As the Game Master, Dr. Grinberg used the chatroom to send private messages to the players, reminding them of specific passages or the importance of calling certain witnesses to the stand.

After the attorneys and main characters presented their claims and defenses, the class used the breakout rooms to prepare their closing arguments. The closing statements were followed by a vote, using the chat reactions “yes” or “no” feature.

Dr. Grinberg reflected on the feedback her students provided after the activity saying, “The students said they welcomed the break from the ‘reading and reviewing’ format we had been following since we started working through Zoom.” Many students remarked that it must be a lively activity in the classroom environment, but they did “okay for our conditions”. “Indeed “our conditions” were not optimal, but it was a good way of making all participants think a little deeper. We all learned a lot and the students provided me with some wonderful ideas I can apply next semester.”

Last modified: May 1, 2020