For those of you that want students doing physics or math problems or something similar in class, let me share the approach my class used for small-group problem solving. I just finished my first remote-teaching class, and it exceeded my wildest expectations, thanks to input from my students in advance, their flexibility, and their forgiveness of my challenges in learning how to do this.
My class IRL includes extensive small-group problem solving. Translating these activities online had me worried.
I talked with several students from my class in the past few days about how we would tackle doing physics problems online in groups of 2 or 3. One thing I learned is that most with whom I spoke wanted to use a second device (phone or tablet) for their sketches and writing of equations. With two devices, the small groups could talk and see each other on their laptops, while drawing sketches and working the math on their phones or tablets.
Zoom is our video conference platform. I decided to try Google Jamboard for the sketching / scribbling part. Jamboard works much like Zoom whiteboard, but with twenty tabs. I split the class into Zoom breakout rooms, and each group chatted in Zoom while working together on their own tab of the Jamboard. I could move from one breakout room to another, flipping to the breakout group’s Jamboard tab as I changed rooms. That way I could see whether they were stuck or going down the wrong path; if so I asked leading questions or offered hints to get the group back on track — just as I did IRL! The first physics problem took around 15 minutes, and all groups finished within two or three minutes of the rest.
Some students used phones, some used tablets, and a couple used Jamboard in their browser, writing with their mouse. Most of the writing was not pretty, but it was all readable and “good enough.” I expect it will get better.
Why Jamboard instead of Zoom whiteboard?
This turned out to be an important decision. Most of the students with whom I spoke wanted to use two devices during class: their laptop for video conferencing and their phone or tablet — touch screen devices — for math. To use the Zoom whiteboard on a second device would have meant each student joining our Zoom session twice. Not good.
- That would double the number of participants, cluttering the session, and
- I have no confidence Zoom would automatically group each student and their doppleganger into the same breakout room.
So I decided that using Zoom for the video conference function and Jamboard for the scratchpad. That made for a much better student experience. Another big plus for Jamboard is you can paste images on any tab. That is a great way for students to have an image of the problem in front of them as they work.
Class this morning went pretty well. Feedback from my students was encouraging. I survived. For the first day, that feels pretty good.
P.S. Kudos to Ching-Wan Yip of the Wake Forest University Instructional Technology Group for introducing me to Jamboard.