Remote Small Group Interaction

As we prepare to social distantify our teaching I’m adapting something I use a lot in the “active” classroom to the online context.

I describe the “Pitch and Catch” technique in a previous blog post. Here’s the TL/DR version.

Everyone brings their work-in-progress to class; over four 15 minute rounds every student sits with 3 peers, “pitches” her current draft and gets intense, “iteration forward” feedback*; each round the groups are shuffled so that over the course of 60 minutes everyone sits with 9 different classmates, one round as pitcher and three as catcher. In my classes of 64 students the one hour yields 16 student-experience-hours of having one’s work the intense focus of classmates’ attention and 48 student-experience-hours of give-and-take critique with classmates.

I’ve just adapted this for remote classroom. Here’s my toolkit and workflow.
I built a simple “app” that takes a comma separated list of student names and produces randomized groups of 4 for four rounds. The output looks like this:


Next I create “Group Sets” in Canvas for each round. This is a little bit labor intensive but barely a half an hour of work for a class of 64. Groups are named so that students can easily connect them back to the table and the round.

Four students are assigned to each one, based on the output of the app above. The pitcher is made the team “leader.”

There are lots of tools we can use for remote video but for this demonstration we use Zoom. The free version allows sessions up to 40 minutes and has a very shallow learning curve; it’s easy to get up to speed with screen sharing, interactive whiteboards, etc.

We make the pitchers in each session responsible for setting up the meeting on Zoom. They fill in some information like this:

And they copy some “invite” text to the clipboard:

Inside Canvas the student goes to the group’s “Home Page” (essentially a section of Canvas pages reserved for members of the group)

and she posts an “Announcement” (just like an instructor can do for the whole class but this one only goes to the group members and the instructor). Each group member sees this and can click on the link to join the meeting at the appointed time.

If the group wants to it can have the host’s machine keep a copy of the meeting. Peer feedback is collected either as answers to questions in Canvas discussion or on a Google form like the one below. We have folks wait until AFTER the session to fill in the form so that it’s the product of some reflection rather than contemporaneous note-taking (which is what we found when folks had the form open during the session).

We do a mail merge with the data (there’s currently a bit of hand massaging needed in Excel to make this happen but we’ll automate that soon) from the feedback form so that each student receives written critique AND we have a “kudos for you” section, an acknowledgment of things other people appreciated during the session. Here’s what the feedback looks like – we either send a PDF through Canvas or paste the text as a Canvas comment.

*a concept developed many years ago at the top of Piedmont Ave with Maia Averett within earshot of Joe Edelman