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ISLA (Inclusive Synchronous Learning Activities) guide

This guide will explain what the capabilities and use-cases are for rooms set up for ISLA teaching.

Tips for success

The literature review conducted by the LEaD academic team identified tips and suggestions for success.

When designing hybrid sessions

  • Give yourself time to experiment with new ideas and methods of teaching and build in opportunities for review (including soliciting feedback from students), reflection and change. (Naffi, 2020)
  • Focus on making sessions as interactive as possible - this is where hybrid-teaching shines (Raes et al, 2020). Consider the use of quizzes, collaborative documents, and more. See the Further Resources and Examples of ISLA teaching sections of this guide for ideas.
  • Bear in mind digital divides and equities when designing activities and expectations for students (Naffi, 2020). This could include:
    • Make sure that student participation works on all operating systems (i.e. avoid a program that does not work on Macs) and all devices (i.e. works on computers and mobile devices).
    • Make sure that if students need to bring earphones/earpods, that this is communicated in advance of sessions. 
  • If your modules includes asynchronous participatory activities (group work assignments done outside of live sessions, forums, wikis, etc), make sure to also “discuss the difference between a conversation and a monologue in a forum, be explicit when it comes to quality versus quantity in asynchronous discussions and explain the difference between engagement and last-minute posts.” (Naffi, 2020)
  • Build in accessibility throughout course design (Taylor, 2020) including via LEaD workshops and 1:1 support. 
  • Consider having a co-pilot during live sessions, for example to monitor the chat, or split the coordination of in-person students and online students, etc (Miller et al, 2013). 
  • Focus on designing live sessions to be primarily interactive, including activities like “Spontaneous quizzing, reading facial cues, conducting quick polls, encouraging question and answer sessions” (Beatty, 2019), rather than sessions that are primarily or heavily lecture or presentation based. 

During live sessions

  • Start the module (Miller et al, 2013) with discussions about:
    • How to succeed in hybrid learning, both during live sessions and when doing independent asynchronous activities (Kuappi, 2020; Miles and Foggett, 2016; Bevacqua, 2019), including:
      • How should students indicate that they'd like to speak, with options for in-person students and remote students,
      • How and how often will the chat be monitored?
    • How to constructively participate in group work in this format (Raman et al, 2021). For example:
      • If in-person students and online students are in a group together, should in-person students log onto the Zoom or Teams call and join a breakout room with their online classmates on individual devices, or one device for all of the in-person students in the group?
      • How will groups use, or not use, the chat function for the group activity? 
      • Are there any specific roles you'd like students participating in one way to be in charge of, for example: "For activity X, students need to produce written notes in a collaborative document and then report on their ideas to the class. The online students should be in charge of writing those notes during the group discussion, while the in-person students should be the ones presenting orally."
    • How to participate during live sessions, both as an in-person student and as an online student (Kohnke, 2021; Raes et al, 2019). Some aspects to consider specifying: should students use the raise hands function? When and how will the chat be used? Make sure to pay attention to ensuring online students in particular do not get lost in the face-to-face environment, by setting aside time to specifically answer online questions and asking a co-pilot to keep an eye on the chat and notify you when your attention is needed (Darby, 2021, THE). 
    • This could be covered in a Moodle video for students to view before live sessions, and covered again as a discussion during the first live session. 
  • “Accept that technology is unreliable. It can break down. Make sure to alert the students and to reassure them as of day one that if this happens during a synchronous meeting you will figure out a plan B to make sure their learning experience is not affected by technical issues or lack of access.” (Naffi, 2020)
  • Consider building in icebreaker activities to help students adjust to the learning space (Bevacqua, 2019). For example, to ensure the set up is working and all students can access the chat, start the session with an activity like, "Everyone, please answer in the chat what ice cream flavour you feel most reflects your mood today!" and give students 3 minutes to submit an answer. This is a low-stakes, no-right-answer assignment, which means students will only not participate if there are technical issues, thus immediately highlighting them so they can be resolved as soon as possible. Icebreakers can also be done through PollEverywhere.

After hybrid sessions

  • Ask for feedback. This is a new experience for teachers and learners, and ensuring there are multiple kinds of opportunities to feedback enables adaptation and change quickly. For example, one university has implemented "a three-layer feedback system: weekly voluntary feedback from students via the online learning management system, monthly meetings between student representatives and the head of department, and two school-level surveys per semester."

How to do group work/breakout rooms?

Raman et al, 2019, recommends the following when implementing breakout rooms in sessions with some students in person and others participating online:

  • Set up breakout rooms ahead of time 
  • Group students across modalities (some online, some in class)
  • Ask students in class to present on behalf of their group

How to build community amongst students?

Build connections between remote and in-person learners to increase student engagement and feeling of community, by designing group and breakout activities where students attending in different ways work together (Sullivan et al, 2021; Raman et al, 2021). This can be done, for example, by setting up break-out rooms for all students to join (ie in-person attendees using individual devices to join breakout rooms with remote attendees).

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