Fostering Engagement, Discussion and Collaboration

Fostering Engagement, Discussion, and Collaboration


When students construct knowledge for themselves rather than passively absorb whatever they’re told, active learning occurs. Instructors who embrace an active-learning approach seek to engage students wherever they are, in a face-to-face or remote setting, in ways that draw students into the class discussion and encourage them to work collaboratively. Active-learning activities can unfold synchronously or asynchronously — before, during, or after class. They keep students on their toes, alert and engaged — a mindset (as we know) that makes them less likely to drift away, check their social media accounts, or order stuff on Amazon.

Engagement, discussion, and collaboration are not synonymous, of course — just broadly overlapping categories. For that reason, we combined them under one big heading. Below, we offer a few tips for student engagement in a hybrid or remote mode. For more on how to create stimulating class discussions and collaborative exercises, read on.

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Discussion is at the core of a liberal arts education, and Colgate’s emphasis on small, discussion-centered classes is a big draw for our students. How to spark discussions in a hybrid or remote mode is a challenge nearly all of us will face at some point this fall. For small upper-level seminars, classroom conversations may be replicable through synchronous discussions on Zoom; but for larger classes, asynchronous strategies may prove more fruitful.

Whatever strategy you choose, try to stay flexible and understanding of the unique challenges that online discussions pose to our students. Consider using asynchronous tools when possible to allow remote students to participate on their own schedules. Hold everyone accountable for their contributions by building in simple checks, feedback, reflections, or point systems. Always link your discussions to educational goals and outcomes, making it clear to students that there is a purpose behind every discussion.

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Remote teaching can feel insular and isolating — there’s no point in pretending this isn’t true. Even so, it offers rich potential for networking students with one another and with other learners, not just in their own class, but around the world. Through networking and collaborating, students come to depend on one another to construct knowledge, thereby creating bonds through shared goals, exploration, and interpretation. Most of the collaborative activities that we normally use in the in-person classroom — group projects, peer instruction, role playing, discussions or debates, brainstorming, and peer review of work, to name a few — translate easily to a hybrid or remote setting. In the transition away from face-to-face teaching, there is no need to throw out plans for collaboration; in fact, a remarkable array of tools and strategies exists not merely to facilitate collaboration in a hybrid or remote mode but to make it even more appealing than usual.

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Some of the content on this page was adapted from Stanford University’s Teach Anywhere website and Indiana University’s Designing and Teaching for Impact in Online Courses. All are published under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial 4.0 license. This page was also inspired by Derek’s Bruff’s blog post Active Learning in Hybrid and Physically Distanced Classrooms.