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.”

Dr. Schulz

Dr. Schulz teaches a wide range of students from high school seniors in the Auburn First program to international and Honors College students to students on the pre-professional route to med school. As part of his transition into Auburn First, Dr. Schulz moved one of his history courses entirely online with interactive elements developed hand-in-hand with Auburn Online instructional designers.

“Because I already taught an online class, my transition has been incredibly simple. When we were called to switch to remote instruction, I immediately responded by adapting elements of my online class to work for my traditional in-person classes that are now held online as well.”

The Department of History also responded to the call for online instruction by assembling a three-person committee they call “Corona Comm”. Faculty on the committee help their colleagues switch to remote instruction by explaining and troubleshooting different instructional technologies. “Although I’m not officially part of the committee, I wanted to help my colleagues during this time. I opened up my courses so they can copy my modules and interactive elements into their own courses.”

Dr. Schulz has extensive training in online classes from his time at Purdue University. His online history class incorporates YouTube videos, a virtual tour of Auschwitz, interactive world maps and timelines, and Learning Glass videos of Dr. Schulz to begin each module. He also uses Honorlock to administer exams because it’s easy to help students troubleshoot.

“Before the coronavirus, I played it very strict with my online class vs. my in-person class. This experience has definitely broken down those silos in my own mind. Going forward, while I’ll keep the assessments separate, I’m going to start incorporating my interactive elements into Canvas for my in-person classes. I figure, why not give everybody access to these resources?”

Jan Moppert

It’s not surprising that Jan Moppert keeps her classes formal and professional. As Director of the Office of Professional and Career Development in the Harbert College of Business, Moppert focuses her teaching on the sophomore level course in a four-course series of professional development classes for Harbert College of Business students.

“I typically have very strict policies around assignments and due dates, but the past few weeks have shown me that these days cannot be so formal. Although I teach a class on professionalism and career development, our emotions are running high right now and we need a more personal touch.”

To diffuse some of the tension, Moppert has begun approaching students with a more than usual personal touch. She encourages students to call or text her and started adding a few paragraphs she calls “Moppert’s Musings” to the bottom of her Canvas announcements.

“I talk about what music I’m listening to, what shows I’m binging, and share some stories/memories either about how this reminds me of my Hurricane Katrina evacuation, what I’m doing to stay positive, or how my dog is entertaining me.”

Numerous students have even written back to Moppert thanking her for the positive outlook and fun stories and sharing how it’s helped them during this time. In return, students have shared photos of their dogs as well as music and show recommendations for Moppert.

“It’s been amazing to connect with my students in this way. My teaching has always been relational, but this experience has emphasized this need even more.”

Rodrigo Sardinas

Dr. Sardinas was primed for remote instruction from the get-go. A faculty member in the department of computer science, Dr. Sardinas already utilized Canvas’ remotely accessible features. “All of my classes are 100% in Canvas, so the transition hasn’t been that bad. The only thing that has changed is not going to class anymore.”

Dr. Sardinas teaches an intro to cloud computing and programming languages class. He started using Zoom to deliver lectures with the goal of trying to emulate the classroom environment as much as possible. “I still use PowerPoint for my presentations and now I use a Wacom tablet with Microsoft Whiteboard to write.”

Dr. Sardinas likes Zoom because it records everything he sees during a lecture (including the chat) and gives students the option to manually record locally on their computer since Zoom recordings can take some time to turn around right now.

“Overall my experience has been good. Class interaction has gone up. Zoom helps facilitate that because students are more willing to type things in chat. I’m going to continue using Zoom even after we’re back in the classroom. It will allow me to interact with my remote students more.”