Reimagining Remote Teaching Volume 19 | GCTC

Reimagining Remote Teaching Volume 19

by Dr. Kerri McKenna - February 5, 2021

Fall 2020 student feedback showed students enjoyed working in small groups. They also enjoyed using the collaborative documents to hold conversations while taking a form of “group notes” for the class. However, with this feedback students shared one thing: the groups could become awkward at times when students would not talk, and the collaborative documents could become glitchy and slow because so many students were working with them at the same time. 

To overcome these issues, a handful of faculty have been “test driving” alternative approaches to these common issues. It looks like we might have a handful of solutions. Check them out below.

The Awkward Small Group Assignment

Students have explained repeatedly that the most awkward part of small group assignments is not knowing each other when in the groups. To overcome this, faculty have tried multiple approaches, which all seem to be working.

One faculty member provides questions for each group in their group work. The first 3 questions are silly and fun. For example, they tell each group to record the answers to questions like this: Peanut butter and Jelly, or Peanut butter and Banana? Swimming with sharks, or swimming with whales? Jumping off a roof of a 20-story building or jumping off a cliff (you would not die either way)? Then, once the groups are done sharing their stories, they move into the work for the day. This breaks the ice, creates a low-risk scenario for the student, and encourages them to become actively engaged in the small group immediately.

Another faculty member has taken a direct approach with her students. Before sending her students into small groups, she assigns someone to be the group note-taker. This person shares their document while recording information the group discusses. Then, once the entire class returns, the faculty member decides who will be presenting from each group. This keeps the students guessing on who will need to present, which keeps all group members participating so they are able to speak coherently to the whole class. 

Finally, our last faculty member has taken the time to make assigned small groups for her classes. These groups work on all assigned topics together for 2 – 3 weeks. She creates them in Blackboard Ultra, and at the culmination of the unit, students can take a group assessment over their work through Ultra. One of the questions on this assessment is to give feedback on each groupmate’s performance during their activities. Here is a link to duplicate her peer evaluation form: CLICK HERE

While these activities are just a sampling of what you could be doing in your classrooms, consider applying one or your own version to your current, 12-week, or 2nd eight-week courses!

Collaborative Document Lag time

One of the challenges with the collaborative documents was significant lag time. To overcome this situation, faculty have taken multiple approaches to solve the issue.

One faculty member has begun using Ultra discussion boards. He puts students into small groups, and then has them answer the small group activity on the discussion board. As a secondary step, he then asks groups to reply to their peers before opening up the whole class to a full discussion over the content. This keeps everything from lagging. He does have a built-in link under his discussion boards with a link to a collaborative document. He then asks one student to “take notes” over the large class discussion on the content. 

Another faculty member has started using Microsoft Slides and / or Google slides with their classes. Think of them like the mini white boards you have them use in class. When students go into their small groups, someone in the group shares a slide and records notes on the slide from their discussion. Then, when students come back to the big group, they can present their slide to the class and share their information. If you have your students add it to the file collection, then students are also able to mark-up the slides if revisions / changes need to be made to the content.

The last recommendation for you is a website called This website works as a virtual bulletin board where students can make their own post it notes and put them on the site. If you allow each group to make their own post-it, there are very few problems. If you have everyone write comments on one post-it you created the post it will lock. Only one person can type on it at a time. This keeps ideas from being overwritten on accident. Some faculty said it can be slow at times, but nothing like the collaborative documents. Student feedback on using pinup is so positive, it is worth the minor slowdown. 

Again, step outside of your comfort zone and take risks with your classes by mixing up the way you are attempting group work and group discussions. See what your students think about your new techniques and adjust for future classes.