Letting students decide the “when” and “where” of group work

By Christa Bancroft, Associate Professor of Teaching in the Biological Sciences – December 4, 2020

Zoom fatigue is very real for everyone right now. Although seeing students and instructors seeing each other live during class and holding productive discussions can enliven the course, sometimes it’s better to call it a day and let students complete group assignment on their own time throughout the week.  I am teaching a new Genomics lab class in an Honors section of Introductory Biology this semester.  The format is actually quite conducive to an online environment because all of the lab analysis is software and web based. However, the lab hours are scheduled into one 3-hour meeting once a week, which is obviously a pretty tough ask right now even with breakout rooms and active learning.

Therefore, we’ve been a bit more flexible with how and when the assignments get done and allow students to do the work in breakout rooms during lab hours with their partners, if they so desire, or to leave after we complete the whole-class activity and meet with their partners at other times during the week as they see fit.  We still require due dates to be adhered to and all members to show that they are collaborating on the end project, but in allowing students autonomy in planning their own work schedule we believe that it helps empower them to be independent learners and collaborate in self-directed ways.  So far, it’s been very effective, even with first-semester freshman learning the ropes of attending a new university and also learning in an online environment. And, it gives everyone a welcome break from Zoom if they are in need of one!