If you’re struggling to find new ways to engage your students in synchronous online class sessions, you’re not alone. Jennifer Terrell and Chase McCoy, instructors who teach a large lower-division course in the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, were also looking for new activities to help their students learn course concepts in synchronous online discussion section meetings. Their course enrolls between 200 and 300 students each semester, and while all the lectures are asynchronous, students have synchronous online discussion sections each week. The discussion sections are run by AIs, and the instructors wanted to empower the AIs to create engaging activities to carry out in the discussion sections rather than using the time for additional lecture. To enhance engagement and help students interact with course content, Terrell and McCoy and their instructional team of AIs and undergraduate instructors decided to experiment with an online whiteboard tool, Miro.
Miro is a whiteboarding tool similar to Google Jamboards, but with some additional features that Terrell and McCoy find useful, such as the pre-designed templates MIro makes available, the integration of applications for voting, timers, etc., and the opportunity to have multiple boards in a single classroom space. To use Miro, the instructional team first brainstorms ideas for an activity that can be done using the tool. A graduate student sets up a whiteboard template specially designed for the activity. Each template includes spaces for students to enter their names, instructions for the task, and a space for students to use in the activity itself. In class, students first access the template whiteboard in small groups in Zoom breakout rooms to address the assigned task. The task might involve brainstorming examples of a concept or solutions to a problem. Instructors can monitor students’ activity on the whiteboards and decide when most groups have accomplished the task. At that point, the students are brought together as a class and the whiteboards from all the breakout rooms are shown together on the screen, so that all the students can see everyone’s responses to the task. Students can then synthesize the responses across all the small groups in what the instructors refer to as a “takeaway board.” The whiteboards used by the small groups can be saved as pdf files, or students can take a screenshot of their board and upload it to a Canvas assignment to show that they participated in the activity.
Terrell and McCoy report that students are very enthusiastic in their praise of the whiteboard activities. And while it takes some time to develop the template boards to be used by the small groups in breakout rooms, using the boards seems to be an easy and intuitive process for students. An undergraduate instructor in the course said that she wished a tool like Miro could be used in her other courses, because it helped her “visualize being in a classroom, without being able to see everyone.” The AIs also report that using Miro boards enhances student engagement. One AI noted that “between full group discussions, breakout rooms, and Miro activities, the students remain consistently engaged, even in quieter sections
Terrell and McCoy have plans to expand their use of Miro whiteboards for their discussion sections in the future: they might pose an icebreaker question on a whiteboard for students to respond to as they enter the Zoom room for their class, for example. Or if the entire class is engaged in a task, the instructor could take notes on a whiteboard visible to everyone as the students talk. Or the instructors could post a quote from an assigned text on a whiteboard and have students annotate or respond to it on the same whiteboard.
If you would like to learn more about how Professors Terrell and McCoy use Miro whiteboards in their class, register for their STEM Shares event on Friday, March 26 at 12:30 pm.