Faculty Innovator: Christine Adams

1st November 2022

Preventing “Zoom Out” in Synchronous Online Classroom 

One of the biggest challenges with teaching in a synchronous online course is figuring out how to keep the students engaged during Zoom sessions. Visiting assistant professor of psychology, Christine Adams, Ph.D., took the traditional Think-Pair-Share class activity and adapted it to fit the online environment.

“Zoom classes have the added challenge of extra distractions in the students’ environment that make it considerably easier to ‘zoom-out’ if they are not actively engaged, than they would if they were sitting in a classroom,” said Adams. “I wanted to develop a way to review concepts in Zoom that was more engaging than a traditional lecture-style review”

Adams’ version has the same three elements, think-pair-share, but are modified to maximize student engagement and learning.

Think – students are assigned reading and video lectures to watch independently. Accompanying these assignments are discussion questions that ask them to review, elaborate on, and think critically about the main concepts.

Pair – in the Zoom meeting, the students get into small groups in breakout rooms. They can collaborate on their answers, to make sure they have the right answers, and to ask each other questions about anything that was unclear. Adams also circulates through the breakout rooms to answer questions to bolster confidence in their answers.

Share – In this final phase, rather than a lecture, Adams cold-calls on the students to answer the discussion questions. Adams logs who she has called on and tries to call on every student at least once during a class session. To be more inclusive, Adams gives students the opportunity to answer aloud or, for anyone who prefers, to type their answers into the chat. Adams expands and elaborates on particularly important points. The students are encouraged to resubmit their answers to the discussion questions based on their small group and class conversations before grading.

“This technique allows me to use the Socratic Method rather than pure lecture which results in an engaging way to review and elaborate on the important concepts the students will need in order to demonstrate on an assessment knowledge and skills learned,” said Adams. “This has led to high confidence and increased knowledge in the concepts.” 

Student performance and evaluations resulted in positive results. Pre and post scores indicated a significant understanding of the material.

One student remarked, “The course itself was organized very well and all the content was super valuable and the fact that we were able to fix most of our work after getting clarity and retrying was super helpful for not only our grades, but also our understanding. The additional opportunities to meet with the instructor for help on anything we needed assistance with was welcomed and extremely helpful.”

Facing the challenges of remote learning and developing innovative and creative ways to keep students involved has been particularly rewarding for Adams.

“My teaching philosophy is rooted in active engagement with the material,” said Adams. “It gives the students multiple instances of engagement with the material. They also get a chance to discuss and refine their knowledge through conversations with other students – where they can clarify misconceptions and help each other with difficult concepts before they talk about in class and apply it in assignments. This modified think-pair-share seemed to work particularly well for my Statistics and Research Methods courses.”

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