Tips on engaging students during virtual learning experiences for architect scholars, mentors and teachers.

Teaching online is different than in physical classroom. With the spread of corona and a forced isolation period many architectural scholars, mentors and teachers will have to move into online education. For some of you it is going to be the first time trying this out.

I prepared a helpful article to get you started.

Zoom is by far the best platform for hosting virtual education. My article is based on the use of this platform. It is a free software which you can install on your computer or download in form of a mobile app.

Should you wish to explore more options of free software available for you in the time of remote work please read my other article: Free remote working tools to help designers and architects stay connected with their team.

Here are few key things to think about when hosting a virtual classroom experience:

During Class

· Encourage community: the sense of presence will be enhanced when everyone shows their face via their webcam. Consider requiring students to turn on video as a key part of participation, since it is easier to engage with the class if you can see them, and students are more likely to pay attention if they know they’re on camera. The gallery view can be helpful here.

· Stretch times: consider permitting students to “stretch” every 20-30 minutes for 30 seconds. It can be harder to focus attention on a screen than in a classroom!

· Polls: Zoom’s polling features to see the distribution of perspectives on a particular question. When used well, this can be a powerful complement to the lecture or discussion.

· Chat: Zoom’s Chat feature can be either very useful for the instructor, or a distraction if it’s used continuously, so thinking about how and when to engage students is helpful.

· Breakout groups: if you want students to reflect in smaller sized “buzz groups”, you can consider using Slack or twitch as a chat platform that complements Zoom.

· Writing on the board: if you usually do “board work” as part of a class session, you can position your laptop in a way that your students can see a board ahead of you. If you dont have one at home, you can also use screenshare and a prepared short powerpoint presentation.

Outside Class

Discussion boards for asynchronous forums:

Not all classroom discussions need to be synchronous. In these cases, try to utilize software offering a discussion forum feature. Decide what kind of discussions will be most beneficial to your course: topic-driven or social-driven. Your discussion prompts and how you evaluate your students’ responses should reflect that decision.

· Topic-driven: this type of discussion board works especially well for highlighting readings or helping your students focus on key parts of your course content. Provide specific conversation points and prompts that may relate to a reading or a lecture. Make sure to build in space for reflection, or debate in your discussion prompts. Students should want to know what their classmates are thinking about!

· Social-driven: this type of discussion board works especially well if you want your students to connect the course with current events or their own projects or work. Your discussion board serves as a digital “water cooler” for your class. Your discussion prompts can be more general, such as asking them to post about the specific topic of the week.

Become a member of my architecture course creators Facebook group here, for more lessons on teaching online.



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Sara Kolata

Sara Kolata

Helping architect and design specialists, mentors, tutors, scholars and consultants transition into a digital world.