Don’t address the whole class

I was part of a great twitter conversation tonight that really got me thinking. This tweet was the first that caught my eye

It then led to a conversation where Alice talked about how she’s challenged herself to never address the whole class, instead focusing on small groups or even individual conversations with students during class. She makes sure the instructions for what to work on are available (she uses Google Classroom quite a bit, I know) and creates a culture where the students come in and get to work right away.

This got me thinking about my general physics class coming up this semester (first day is this Wednesday!). We spend quite a bit of class time working in groups, using whiteboards, trying to figure out approaches, apply ideas, predict what’ll happen in demos etc. I spend a lot of my time walking around engaging with groups and individuals. So far, so good, and I can see how Alice’s ideas could help me get to that faster. I could make sure that the questions/issues/content/demos are laid out on some web site or projected handout or whatever and have them get right to the groups right away. I like thinking about how I could save time by not re-explaining the instructions to the whole class even when only one group or individual has the question. It would mean having some pretty explicit instructions but I don’t think that bothers me.

But I see another way that would save time and make the learning better. Here’s the scenario that I think could be improved:

Student (or group): … but when we do that, we get this?!


Of course I’m happy to use live group work to help others learn. However, the big problem with that scenario is the “HANG ON” part. I’m forcing everyone else to freeze their thought process and try to focus on something that’s not hitting them in stride. There’s all kinds of variations to that scenario, ranging from “we don’t get why this matters” through “We googled this and . . .” to “ours seems to be different than everyone else’s.” All of those can often lead to learning for everyone if everyone could give some attention to it. But forcing when that focusing happens causes problems.

So what if I used technology to allow those moments to be captured (probably a photo of their work along with a caption from either me or them (assuming I encouraged them to do it)) and added to a streaming slide show that they can all access and look at. Alice says it well:

In other words, when people are ready to focus on something that another group has done, they can access the slide show, pause it on the appropriate slide, and learn!

I think I’d still like something of a board meeting (borrowing from the Modeling community) in there somewhere so that different groups could interact, but this idea could really foster some great conversation.

What I would need:

  • A website (sounds easiest) that could display the instructions and the evolving slideshow
  • The ability for anyone in class (including me) to add to the slide show with both photos and captions
  • Repeat with a fresh (empty) slide show for each class

I’m sure I could build that into my homebuilt LMS but I’ll likely look around for something first. Maybe Flickr could do it? Maybe a google folder? I’m happy to take suggestions below.

Questions/thoughts/ideas/anecdotes/complaints? Here are some starters for you:

  • This is Alice and I like how you’ve captured this idea. Here’s a bunch of other resources along these lines …
  • This is Alice and you’ve totally screwed up this idea. I really hope no one’s reading this comment because that means they’ve scrolled through this whole stupid post.
  • Why do you think that students reading instructions is better than you giving a (nuanced?) explanation at the beginning of class?
  • I hate it when I interrupt students to give them something new to think about. I like this approach, though I worry they won’t attend to the slide show. Here’s how I’d fix that . . .
  • I love it when I interrupt students to give them something new to think about. It usually brings back the groups that have gone off the rails and later they can discuss with other groups better because they’ve all thought about the same things. I think you should do this to fix this idea . . .
  • I’m in your general physics class this semester and I’m excited about some of the ideas in this post. Mostly I’m excited to . . .
  • I’m in this class this semester. Where can I get a drop card?

About Andy Rundquist

Professor of physics at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN
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14 Responses to Don’t address the whole class

  1. Mike says:

    I like this. I am trying, though. to see its adaptability from your lab-based *doing* to my text-centered discussion classes. The analogue may be trying to avoid the way I frame and m.c. discussions — the way that inevitably leads to pingponging between students and me, rather than free-range interaction with all. Hm. Let me puzzle on it. Interesting post.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      I think this is connected to my own worries about ping pong vs volleyball (my way of describing the free-range interactions you’re talking about). I have some friends who use things like twitter feeds etc for backchannels in class. I wonder if that would be an analogy to this?

  2. Jeff says:

    We have a physics department? JK Love to you Andy. Keep innovating!

  3. bretbenesh says:

    So the students would do all of the posting during class? And the instructions for the class would include something like “Check the slideshow whenever your team reaches a good point to view it.”

    This seems promising, but I can’t quite visualize how it would go.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      I actually think I would do most of the posting. I’d see something cool at one group, take a quick pic, upload, add caption, and move on (after talking with them of course). I’m still trying to visualize it too!

      • Kelly O'Shea says:

        I wonder if it would merge from that (you choosing the content to share) to them choosing the content as they took more ownership and felt more comfortable in the structure of the class? And wouldn’t Google Slides be an easy way to do this? (Just make the whole class editors of the document.)

        I could imagine something like this working for me if I didn’t already have small enough classes to come back to each problem again in whole-class whiteboard discussions after working them the first time. I will think about it more, too. 🙂

  4. This resonates with me. I’m not sure exactly how to apply it, I think I need to chew on it a while, but I do feel the conflict when I want to show everyone something (unique answer, a better explanation, a deeper explanation, etc.) but I find myself interrupting groups in various stages or levels of work.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      Yeah, for me when I interrupt the class I’m pretty sure it’s useful info for most/all but the idea that they might not be ready for that info right then is the big issue. Still chewing on it myself.

  5. I think that is a great idea. A Google site with an embedded google presentation that is shared with students sounds like a good way to replicate the Board Meeting concept. All you would need is a Google account (free) for you and each student, or 1 per group. Then create the site and the presentation, embed the presentation onto the site, share the presentation with each student and let them edit. Rinse and repeat with additional classes.

  6. Adam Thompson says:

    At present, at the beginning of each class my students present solutions to out-of-class work. For a while I have considered doing this completely outside of class using a discussion board, to promote more efficient discussion by focusing on the best comments/insights.

    Alice’s and your ideas have really making me think about this again.

    Could a classroom use a discussion board (properly designed) as an asynchronous threaded white-boarding tool in the cloud?

    (1) Each discussion would represent only a small segment of the day’s material, with the instructions as the header for the discussion.
    (2) Each student/group opens the discussion for the instructions.
    (3) Each student/group adds ideas/pictures/hints/wow-moments.
    (4) Other students/groups see new material (with refresh).
    (5) No side-tracking when working in different segments.

    Further, students could be required to return to review previous segments (at class end, or outside of class) and LIKE/Reply to any posts that are really helpful or WOW!

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      That sounds pretty cool, but it would be quite an investment on their part outside of class. I know there are a few different collaborative whiteboard tools out there, but I haven’t really tried any, especially asynchronously.

      On Thu, Sep 24, 2015 at 12:46 AM, SuperFly Physics wrote:


  7. Melissa Vigil says:

    Were you thinking of somthing like what is described here by Richard Buckland?

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      maybe. I skimmed the video and I see it’s about a full-fledged solution (wiki) for lots of things. I’m not sure I need that, but definitely that sort of tool set.

  8. Pingback: Web apps workgroup | SuperFly Physics

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