Managing Student Questions in an Online/Offline Classroom

Many of us have been taught to raise our hand if we have a question. However, like many other things right now, asking a question in class can be a bit more complex during COVID-19. 

Our Adult General Education teachers are leading classes in new ways. Teachers may have the usual in-person classes or have all students online. Other centres are placing students on rotation schedules or balancing hybrid learning environments with some students physically in class and others participating from home.  

I’ve recently had the opportunity to virtually sit in on both an online class and a simultaneous hybrid class. In observing these two different classes, I noticed that a lot of the things that were simple to do face-to-face are now increasingly more complex in these digital environments. However, I think that by sharing some of the best practices and techniques that really work, we can learn from each other and find interesting solutions. 

Last week, Western Quebec School Board (WQSB) invited our RECIT AGE team to participate in an ongoing online initiative called “Coffee Chat”. This is a weekly drop-in session that provides an informal venue for WQSB teachers and consultants to touch base, talk, and share their experiences. Marc Gariépy (RECIT AGE) and I were available to join a session together, so we dropped in.

In one conversation, a WQSB teacher mentioned that she found it difficult to keep track of student questions in a simultaneous hybrid classroom. Her challenge was that she received questions from both online and offline students, often at the same time. Students in-class could easily raise their hand to ask a question, yet online students attending through Zoom had to wait for a break in the instruction to interject with their questions. 

This teacher was wondering how she could more equitably balance questions from both groups, and respond to the needs of both groups at the same time. Is there a system where offline and online students could ask questions using the same tools? How could she track student questions to ensure that all questions have been answered?

These were all great questions that I didn’t have an immediate answer for. But I knew I could turn to others in my network to find some creative solutions. 

Twitter is a huge help to me and our team during COVID-19. Not only does Twitter help me maintain my own professional learning, but it also allows me to keep connected with my network of educators that I no longer see in-person. So, I reached out with this Tweet:

Twitter: Avi Spector (@a_spector) : “To ensure a more equitable online/offline #hybrid learning experience, does anyone have a suggestion(s) for an online tool that would allow the teacher to gather student questions from both groups in real-time? #edchat @Catlin_Tucker @ebowles_RECIT”

1:28 PM ▪️ Nov 17, 2020 ▪️ via Twitter web app

In a matter of hours, several educators and colleagues replied, including Dr. Catlin Tucker, who is recognized as one of the leading international educators on Blending Learning. Here are some of the ideas and tools that were suggested in response to my call for solutions: 

Mentimeter – “Works on mobile devices, updates in real-time, and can be accessed by both groups of students.” via @Catlin_Tucker, @lisashieldmcd (My comment: It’s free, no username/passwords required)

ClassroomQ – “ClassroomQ allows you to make a virtual queue that online & in-class students can add their names if they need help” via @Catlin_Tucker (My comment: Free version is limited to 5 student questions at a time, works on mobile too.)

Slido – “The teacher vets questions before they show, and participants can upvote the ones they like most, but again, might not be the best choice if the teacher should just be answering every question, not just the most liked” via @adamashton (My comment: I tried this tool a little more. Lots of potential. Allows you to push questions, quizzes, polls to students)

I replied on Twitter that a public Google Sheet or Doc (or Office 365 Word/Excel) would also get the job done and would have the added bonus of allowing students to answer each other. My RECIT AGE colleague Emilie Bowles tweeted: “I like those suggestions because they’re easy and students don’t need to learn anything new. Plus they allow the teacher to have documentation of the questions afterward.” Via @ebowles_RECIT 

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If you’re teaching in a simultaneous hybrid classroom, what system or systems are you using to manage student questions? I’d love to hear!

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