School of Interactive Arts & Technology, Technology & Society

Building community in online lectures and labs

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May 29, 2020

With the transition to remote teaching, SIAT instructors are being mindful of how they can provide students with opportunities to interact in lectures, stay connected to one another, and facilitate feedback.

While recorded lectures are often available to provide students with flexibility, some instructors are encouraging students to attend live lectures to facilitate interaction and engagement. “I tried to recreate as much as possible that social, class atmosphere where people are aware of each other in the class and provide ways for them to communicate with each other,” says Susan Clements-Vivian, instructor of IAT 100 Digital Image Design and IAT 208 Drawing Inquiry.

While this is easier with smaller groups, one popular technique that Susan used to engage students in her larger first-year course was to ask questions in the live lecture and have students vote on their answers using emoticons in the text-chat box. “This worked in the same way that an iClicker would in a big group and helped keep large classes interactive,” says Susan.

Encouraging teaching assistants and students to provide peers with real-time feedback was also effective in Susan’s smaller drawing class. Since teaching assistants and instructors would normally move about the classroom to provide feedback on students’ drawings, Susan structured her course in a way that allowed students to continue receiving this real-time feedback. To do this, she set up an iPad on a tripod and pointed it at her easel for her drawing demonstrations. Students could then watch the demonstration and ask questions or upload photos of their own drawings and the TA would monitor the discussion board and provide feedback while they were working.

Dividing students into smaller breakout rooms is another way in which some SIAT instructors are replicating the interactive elements of lectures and labs. In Zoom and Bb Collaborate, students can be assigned to breakout rooms where they can get together with other students and work on assignments collaboratively. In some courses, students then post their work to discussion boards where peers and instructors provide feedback. “Just like you would in any class, students have the opportunity to get to know each other [through the breakout rooms],” says Susan, who used the breakout rooms and discussion boards as a way for students to build a sense of community and learn from one another.  

These methods used by Susan are being used in many SIAT courses to maintain a strong sense of community in courses and provide students with a platform to share work, socialize, and receive feedback. Despite shifting online, SIAT courses continue to be community-driven courses where students can connect and collaborate with instructors and peers. While the delivery methods have altered, the learning experience remains unchanged thanks to the commitment of SIAT instructors and students.