Building Discussion Through Online and In-Class Activities

In this section, Prof. Klopfer describes two recurring course assignments that integrated online and in-class activities in complementary ways. In the last section, two students from the class share their thoughts on these activities.

For this class, we created two recurring assignments that integrated online and in-class activities in complementary ways. For both of these activities, students took turns being discussion leaders in groups of 2-3. The discussion leaders enabled and facilitated discussions online. These online discussions made it possible to start valuable conversations before class met instead of being constrained to limited class time. In the online forum, all students were able to share their opinions, and the online discussions and questions helped student discussion leaders structure the subsequent classroom activities. Below, I explain these two activities, current events and chapter readings, and the complementary roles of the online and in-class parts.

The Current Events Assignment

For the current events assignment (PDF), one group of 2-3 students presented a current events article each week. At the beginning of each week, the presenting group selected an article, posted it online, and posed a few related questions to the rest of the class through a Moodle forum. All students then discussed the questions online. Subsequently, the student presenters built upon the online discussion by moderating a discussion or running an activity in class. The in-class component took roughly 30 minutes per week, or about one-ninth of class time.

Students investigate current events, choose things that are important and meaningful to them, and bring it into the classroom for discussion.

– Prof. Klopfer

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In this video, Professor Eric Klopfer discusses the current events assignment from his MIT class, 11.124 Introduction to Education. He focuses on why he introduced the assignment and how the online and in-class components complemented each other.

The Chapter Readings Assignment

Similar to the current events assignment, the chapter readings assignment (PDF) required groups of 2-3 students to each read one chapter of a selected book and post a summary to a Moodle wiki. Other students were then expected to read the chapter summary and engage in a conversation around it. In the subsequent class, the student presenters facilitated a discussion that built upon the online conversation. The groups of 2-3 students cycled through so that every student had the opportunity to summarize a chapter and jointly lead an in-class discussion. Over the course of the semester, an online summary of the whole book was built chapter-by-chapter on the Wiki. We did not require that students read the whole book; however, the students did need to read the summary for a sense of the book’s important issues so they could engage in conversations about the book’s themes. As with the current events assignment, the in-class component took roughly 30 minutes per week, or about one-ninth of class time.

Each year when I choose the books for the chapter readings, I like to have one that brings in a historical context and one that brings in a current context. It’s a matter of thinking about things that are timely. I like to vary the books every few years, so I may switch to a new book after I’ve heard different students’ perspectives on a book’s themes for a couple years.

Students’ Thoughts on the Online Activities

We actually respond online before we come to the class, and that’s really interesting because as the leaders of the discussion, you get to read everyone’s opinions on everything.

– 11.124 Student

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In this video, two students share their thoughts on the online component of the course's current events and chapter readings assignments.