3 Discussions

One way to improve involvement in a Zoom meeting is to structure the discussion. This gives students time to think about a response and sets clear expectations for their role in the discussion. What’s more, if you allow students to participate in the discussion in chat, you might also increase participation from all students.

This isn’t so much a specific activity as it is a framework that discussion activities in this chapter follow. The structured discussion provides an opportunity for you to scaffold questions and model the line of thinking that your discipline employs when approaching different issues; it also guides students along that path.

In this section:

General Guidance

  1. (prep) Determine where you want the discussion to ultimately conclude. What question(s) do you want students to wrestle with by the end of class?
  2. (prep) Write down the questions that can lead them to that goal, starting from the close, familiar, and concrete (e.g., “How did you react when you read/saw xyz?”) then going to the abstract or evaluative (e.g., “Should the “Western literary canon” include more diverse voices?”).
  3. Zoom (live): Display discussion questions as well as saying them. If the discussion question is about a file (e.g., a text or image) that students don’t have yet, share the file in the chat pod.
  4. Give a short but specific amount of time for students to individually jot down some notes about the response.
  5. Moderate the discussion around that question. Consider letting students respond in chat and reading those comments out loud every couple minutes.
  6. Repeat this process until you have reached your goal question(s). For more complex questions or to add variety, consider using breakout rooms, Think-Pair-Share, or polling for one of the rounds.

TECHNICAL GUIDES

Think-Pair-Share

paired discussionThink-Pair-Share is a workhorse in the active learning classroom. It has only a few primary elements which therefore makes it incredibly adaptive:
a) a prompt for students to respond to
b) individual responses
c) pair or small group discussion
d) class discussion or debrief

By using a timer and keeping each stage short, this activity can generate a lot of energy while still giving students enough time to formulate and explain their ideas.


  1. Ask students an open-ended question. This is most effective if your prompt is specific (e.g., “What did you agree with or disagree with regarding [a particular concept]?” or “Compare and contrast concept A with concept B?”)
  2. Tell them that they will have 3 minutes to individually jot down a few notes to organize their thoughts.
  3. Send students to breakout rooms in groups of 2 or 3 to discuss their responses. Give them 5-7 minutes depending on the complexity of the prompt. Consider visiting some of the breakout rooms to fuel the discussion or bring in different points of view.
  4. Close the breakout rooms and bring the class back together to summarize their discussion and explore further as a class.

TECHNICAL GUIDES

What do you think? – Fueling discussion with polls

Polls are frequently used to break the ice at the beginning of a class session (e.g., “How would you label your mood today – choose all that apply,”), but they can also serve as a shared jumping-off point for small- or large-group discussion.


  1. Zoom (prep): Create a poll or series of polls that are related to the discussion topic. An especially interesting approach to this activity is to replicate question(s) from a research study, so students can compare, contrast, and analyze their results during the discussions.
  2. Zoom (live): Launch the poll(s) then display the data after everyone has responded. If possible, contextualize the results by comparing it to the results of other polls.
  3. Inform students that you will be putting them into breakout rooms in groups of 3-5, and give them their discussion prompt (e.g., “Why were the results from our classroom poll so different from the results from a national poll.”). Give groups 5-10 minutes to discuss.
  4. Debrief: Bring the class back together and ask groups to report out before continuing the discussion.
  5. Follow up – Canvas: Assign students a paragraph or short essay where they take the poll analysis (or other data set) one step further.

TECHNICAL GUIDES

Choose-Your-Own-Discussion: Opt-in Breakout Rooms

Let your students choose what elements of a subject to discuss by creating topic-specific breakout rooms then asking students to join the topic that most interests them.


  1. Zoom (prep): Create breakout rooms (using Breakout Room pre-assign), and name them according to the discussion topics.
  2. Zoom (live): Inform students that they will be having 2-4 discussions (consecutively, not synchronously). Each discussion will take place in a different breakout room. Students will get to choose which discussion (i.e. room) they join, and after 5-7 minutes, you will close the breakout rooms to bring everyone back, then reopen them for students to choose a new discussion.
  3. Select Breakout Rooms, then the gear icon. In the window that opens, select “Allow participants to choose room,” then the Open All Rooms button.
  4. Join some of the breakout rooms to participate in the discussion.
  5. Select Close All Breakout Rooms to bring your students back together, then reopen the breakout rooms for students to make their next choice.
  6. Debrief: Discuss each topic as a class. Students who took part in that topic can summarize their small-group discussion to kick off the whole class discussion.

TECHNICAL GUIDES

Group Work – Problem Solving

group problem solving

“Group work” in this case refers to activities that can be completed within a class period or two – if the activity requires multiple periods or group time outside of class, see Group Projects.


  1. Canvas: Provide students with the “problem” and any necessary background reading; assign a short paragraph or quiz to analyze the problem or propose initial solutions. Note: It’s often preferable to grade this step as completed/not completed to encourage unconventional approaches; the goal is to incentivize preparation.
  2. Zoom: Summarize and/or contextualize the problem(s).
    1. Provide an explicit list of deliverables (e.g., an executive summary, diagram, or project plan), and how they should be delivered (e.g. Google Docs, Google Slides, etc.)
    2. Consider giving some general guidance about an approach to follow, esp. for lower-level classes (e.g., “Brainstorm together first on Google Docs. Then create a plan describing everyone’s roles, responsibilities, and due dates. Finally, plan weekly check-ins with progress reports.”).
  3. Zoom: Send students to breakout rooms of three to five to discuss their hypotheses and determine a course of action. Note: If this is the first time using this activity, bring the entire class back together after 10-15 minutes and have groups report out on the process/plan they are following to “solve” the problem and redirect as necessary.
  4. Take turns visiting each of the different breakout rooms to ask questions and redirect as necessary.
  5. Near the end of class, bring all groups back together to present their “solution” and deliverables.
  6. Follow-up – Canvas: Assign groups to refine their deliverables and submit them.

TECHNICAL GUIDES

Peer Review Debrief

By adding Zoom discussion to the Canvas Peer-Review function, students can clarify their comments and workshop some solutions to help improve each other’s writing. After the small-group discussions, instructors can identify themes and provide immediate instruction on common issues to help students for their next version.


  1. Canvas: Assign a Peer Review Assignment with at least two reviewers. Those reviewers should be reviewing each other’s work as well. In the assignment guidance, make sure to inform students that they will be following up their review with a Zoom discussion. [check to see if students are reviewing in SpeedGrader]
  2. Zoom (prep): Pre-assign breakout rooms using the Import Rooms and Participants template.
  3. Zoom (live): Provide “ground rules” for discussing the peer reviews.
    1. Tell students how long they have in their breakout rooms, and that time should be equally spent on everyone’s papers – suggest they designate a time keeper.
    2. Give examples of effective and ineffective feedback if students are unfamiliar with this process.
  4. Zoom (live): Send students to their breakout rooms and rearrange if groups are too small due to absences. Use the Broadcast button to give everyone warning that they only have one minute left to discuss in their groups.
  5. Zoom (live): Debrief the exercise: what common issues did people see; what extra help do they need to improve their next draft?

TECHNICAL GUIDES

Debate

debate

Hold an online debate and have students vote for the winner using polling or reactions.


  1. Canvas: One week in advance, assign the teams, the debate topics, and the structure (e.g., 5-min opening statements followed by two rounds of 2-minute rebuttals). Consider assigning an annotated evidence list or outline to encourage preparation for the debate.
  2. Zoom (prep): Create a poll asking students to indicate which side of the debate topic they most favor.
  3. Zoom (live): Send the groups to breakout rooms for 5-10 minutes for final preparations.
  4. Launch the poll while the groups are preparing, but do not display the results. Record these results on a piece of paper for use during the debrief.
  5. Bring the class back together and ask each group to present their case as per the structure you described in Step 1.
  6. After the debate, re-launch the poll.
  7. Debrief: Discuss the results of the two polls and whether people changed their minds. Consider asking the class to analyze the arguments and which evidence was convincing and why.

TECHNICAL GUIDES

Text Discussions – Hypothesis and Zoom

If your class discussions are deeply rooted in texts, consider using a combination of Hypothesis and Zoom. Giving students an assignment in Hypothesis that is due before the Zoom session will give students a chance to formulate their thoughts, see other’s ideas, and potentially generate some positive tension that you can then leverage during the Zoom discussion.


  1. Canvas: Create a Hypothesis assignment using Canvas Assignments. In the assignment guidance, give students specific instructions about how and how much you wish for them to comment on the text and each other.
  2. Zoom: Open the Hypothesis assignment, share your screen, and hold the discussion as you normally would. Suggest to students that, if possible, they should also open their Hypothesis assignment to refer back to their or their peers’ previous comments.

TECHNICAL GUIDES

Student-Directed Exam Review – Polling

If you use class or lab time to review for an exam, you can utilize Zoom polls to prioritize the review for those topics that students most need. By analyzing this data over sections and semesters, you may find trends that could inform course revision. This simple use of polling could similarly be modified for assigned readings, so class time could be focused on those areas where students need the most support.


  1. Zoom (prep): Create a “multiple choice” poll asking students to indicate which topic(s) they most want to review.
  2. Zoom (live): Open the poll and ask students to respond. Share the results.
  3. Begin the review based on the highest indicated topic and continue in order.
  4. Run the Poll-type meeting report through the Zoom web interface after class (see the “Technical Guides” for details).

TECHNICAL GUIDES

License

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Zoom to the Next Level: Active Learning in the Virtual Classroom by Digital Education Programs and Initiatives - Indiana University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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