Remote Active Learning and Scheduling Live Class Time

Remote Active Learning and Scheduling Live Class Time

Active learning is about structuring courses to get all students to do the hard work of learning. Designing structured opportunities for all students to recall, reflect, synthesize ideas, ask questions, or self-assess their learning can improve student learning. While these strategies are effective regardless of whether classes are remote, face to face, or fully online, how we structure our class and student engagement becomes even more important in a remote context.

As you think about how to make the most of “live” time with students, we offer 1) general principles for class structure, along with sample lesson plans, and 2) guidance for spaces to engage students every class period (at the beginning and end of class, in the chat, and in discussion groups). You can also find additional detail on active learning in remote contexts in the recorded workshop

General principles for structuring your class

Chunk content: Break-up presentation of content into short sections (5-15 min) with opportunities for student activities in between.

Create space for student interaction: Students who are used to face-to-face classes may be missing interaction and engagement. Create more space for student-student interaction and opportunities for student-instructor interaction (like one-on-one meetings or office hours).

Structure group work: Be explicit about group expectations and rules for student dialogue. Create time for structured social interaction if students are working in new groups. Have students assign roles, like reporter or recorder.

Take breaks: Zoom fatigue is real – give students a 5-10 min break during your 2-hour class.

Have a backup plan: Technology and connectivity issues will occur for you and your students. Record synchronous meetings so students can participate even if their connections don’t work in the moment. Have a backup strategy for what to do if you have connectivity issues.

You can find two examples of lesson plans (Lesson Plan 1 and Lesson Plan 2) which illustrate these principles. We recommend lesson-planning in two columns: one for what the instructor will be doing and one column for what you expect students to be doing.


Basic strategies for student engagement:

Engage students early

Start class with a recall activity from the last class session, ask students what they already know about the topic you are going to introduce, or ask them to make a prediction about something you are about to discuss.

  • Engaging students in an activity early in the class helps to set the tone and expectation for students to engage with the content.
  • Having students recall or predict activates what they already know and allows you assess where they are in their learning.

Use the Chat Feature

While presenting in Zoom, we find real-time monitoring of the chat to be challenging. Instead, pause every 10 minutes to check for questions and give a specific prompt for students (e.g. summarize a key idea, what is the least clear point, etc.). Students can write responses in the chat either to the whole class or directly to you. Students and groups of students also can be assigned to monitor the chat and even pose and field questions on topical areas. Through Information Services’ Zoom assistant training, you can request that a student leader receive a short training on how to offer the class technical support in Zoom. (Select “Request Help,” then “Classroom Assistant.”)

Use Polls

Assess student understanding and leverage peer instruction with clicker-type poll questions. Remember the best practices:

  1. Give students time to think and vote without interaction.
  2. Create 2-6 person breakout groups for discussion and peer instruction.
  3. Have students re-vote and allow a student to share their reasoning about correct or incorrect responses.

Use break-out rooms for interaction and discussion

Utilize breakout rooms for “think-pair-share” activities or for small group discussions. Try these strategies to improve the dialogue in break-out rooms:

  1. Give explicit time for individual thinking before discussion. You can make use of the time it takes you to set up break-out rooms to allow students time to think about the prompt.
  2. Unlike face-to-face classes, students can’t easily choose who they talk to in a class. Remember to allot a little more time for structured social interaction. We prompt students to introduce themselves (“who are you, where are you, and how are you?”) and give groups one minute per person to share and get to know each other at the start of the first breakout session.
  3. Once students are in breakout rooms it is easy to forget the prompt! Be sure to broadcast a reminder of the prompt to help keep the conversation going.
  4. Assign roles – especially a reporter – to make someone accountable for sharing the main points of the groups’ discussion.
  5. When the students return to the main room, ask the reporter to identify themselves using the chat feature so that you can easily call on them to report out. Otherwise, use the breakout room list to call on a group (e.g.: “could Austin, Sierra & Lee’s reporter share your group’s response”) to get the conversation going more quickly.

End class with a closing activity

Take advantage of the last minutes of class with a specific activity or prompt to help students reflect on what they learn and draw out the most important points. Have students write a minute paper, their muddiest point from the lesson, or a plan for studying or finding answers to the questions they have for example. See TEP’s full list of activities to support this kind of “metacognitive” learning.

For additional active learning strategies specific to 1) building community, 2) prompting discussion, 3) deepening reading, 4) demonstrating/modeling and 5) reviewing, please see [here link to what is currently "moving instruction online" but which might be served by a new title].

For additional strategies and illustrations of active learning that work in remote contexts, please view TEP and UO Online's April 2020 workshop on Remote Active Learning, below.


Related Topics: Active Learning