Reintroducing Collaborative Problem Solving

I think it is a good sign that I’m not making new discoveries in online teaching on a daily basis anymore. But, this past week, I finally felt like the students had got used to the general rhythm of watching video lectures, taking short quizzes or posting in the forum, and doing coding activities while I was available for one on one questions. I was hearing the students were starting to miss interacting with each other.

So, this past Friday, I got students back working together on coding tasks during class time. I’m not worrying about audio or video – I know some of them are having connectivity issues (heck, I’m having bandwidth issues I never used to have…) And I’m really pleased with the results.

My morning programming class went particularly well. I created a bunch of chat rooms and assigned students to them in groups of 3 or 4 as they let me know they were “in class”. I had a set of coding exercises that usually I ask students to write up solutions for on paper or the whiteboard – instead, I asked them to discuss possible solutions in their chat room. Once they were done, they would test their solutions by actually compiling and running them and debugging as needed. I spent the class session rotating between rooms at a pretty frequent pace. Early on, I had to remind each group not to just write the code on their own and then copy their solutions into the chat when they were done – they were supposed to be discussing. But, with a reminder, they all went along with that strategy and had really great conversations about the problems they were solving. For the few students who weren’t able to be in class, I gave them their own room they could use at a different time outside of class to do they same exercise but still get the benefits of collaborating.

Looking ahead, I think I’ll finish out the term with each class having at least one day where they interact live during class time if possible, and one day where they don’t have to necessarily be “in class” (though I will always be available during class), and the third day being played by ear. This seems like a good mix of maintaining some collaboration and community, but also giving students space and flexibility in their schedules for everything else going on. And, of course, making the option available for students to complete in-class activities at other times if needed. I’m posting these schedules at least two weeks out so students can plan.

I know nothing I’m creating here is new or particularly earth shattering in the realm of online teaching. But I’m pleased to be finding options that work to let me adapt my course without having to throw out all of the preparation I’d done for the second half of the term. And I suspect that the success is as much based on the students having settled into the new routines enough they are ready to work together again.

One thought on “Reintroducing Collaborative Problem Solving

  1. This is cool! My students are supposed to do a usability study on each others projects and this might be a good model for how to make that happen. Thanks!

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