How to Manage Small Group Learning via Video Conference

Osmosis Team
Published on May 25, 2020. Updated on Sep 15, 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a rapid transition to online education and distance learning. Many programs hope to reopen as soon as possible; but, researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health have determined that absent a vaccine or proven treatments, intermittent social distancing may be necessary into 2022.

As a result, universities and health professions programs may experience several shifts between online and on-campus classes. Implementing effective strategies for managing small group learning via video conference can support you and your students throughout this period.

In this guide you will learn:

  • How to prepare for small group video conference sessions.

  • Methods to optimize in-session learning outcomes.

  • Tools for post-conference assessment and improvement.

If you have questions about the strategies in this guide or how you can implement them, please contact us at [email protected].  

Before the session

In-person classes for small groups may follow a structured agenda, or they may be conducted as open forums for learner-directed discussion. Video conferencing works best with the former approach. As you build each session’s lesson or discussion plan, the following steps will prepare you and your students for a successful learning experience.

1. Conduct a practice session on your chosen platform. 

  • Aside from providing an opportunity to review the lesson agenda, this approach allows you to familiarize yourself with the layout and features of your video conferencing solution of choice.

2. Simulate the presence of multiple learners by logging on from multiple devices. 

  • Students working from home under social distancing protocols may not have access to a computer or reliable internet connection. By reviewing the platform interface from a smartphone or tablet, you will gain an understanding of how learners might engage during the session.

Alternatively, you may partner with your colleagues to conduct a practice conference and troubleshoot as a group. 

3. Communicate your expectations for the session.

  • Let students know how to prepare and how they will participate ahead of time. 

  • Advise learners to conduct their own tech troubleshooting and practice runs, and to do so with enough lead time to solve any issues before the session begins.

  • If you plan on using the screenshare feature during your session, a smartphone may be too small for effective learning. Determine adequate screen size, communicate this determination to students, and offer alternatives for those with limited access.

4. Remind learners to maintain professional conduct and practice appropriate video conference etiquette. 

  • Ask students to dress and behave appropriately for a school or educational setting.

  • Encourage students to find a quiet space where they can participate without distractions. But, keep in mind that this may not be possible in some home environments.

  • No matter the setting, ask your students to practice good video conference etiquette by leaving their microphones muted when they are not speaking.

During the session

There are several complementary methods to promote learner-centered engagement during your video conference session. The options listed below facilitate focused interaction while establishing constructive channels for peer-to-peer and lecturer-to-learner communication.

1. Optimize your efficacy with clear communication.

  • Run your session efficiently by queuing or stacking speakers. Let your class know that Student A will speak first, followed by Students B and C. After Student A speaks, alert Student B and Student C. 

  • Advise students to take advantage of the chat feature to share questions or interact without interrupting speakers. Chats can be directed to the entire group or specific participants. Remind learners that messaging may be inaccessible to users when they are hosting screenshares.

2. Lay the groundwork for a focused environment.

  • When students first log on, use the lead time to interact as a group. This will allow learners to troubleshoot tech issues while fulfilling the social aspects of a real-time classroom environment—all before the session begins. 

  • Maintain engagement by asking learners to keep their cameras on. For students with audio-only access, edit their account titles by listing their names in place of their phone numbers. 

  • Invite a student volunteer to take session notes and share them in the chat or in a separate document. This task can be divided among multiple students throughout the session.

3. Encourage single-tasking and discourage multitasking.

  • Knowledge acquisition is undermined by multitasking, and technology is particularly distracting. Model single-tasking throughout the session and explicitly remind students to do the same.

  • Promote single-tasking with accountability. Establish periodic check-ins by asking questions and requesting a chat response. Student speakers may choose to conduct check-ins as well.

After the session

The discrete nature of video conference sessions offers a powerful opportunity for self-assessment. By applying the frameworks below and requesting student feedback, you can effectively determine where small-group learning facilitation is succeeding and where it can be improved.

  • Apply the Plus/Delta evaluation framework by asking yourself what went well and what could be enhanced.

  • Stop/Start/Keep is another sound option for self-assessment. Ask what you should stop doing, what you should start doing, and what you should keep doing in each session.

  • Whether they are positive or negative, identify the key takeaways from your video conference.

  • Consider identifying one thing you will do differently during your next small-group learning session.

  • Once your assessment is complete, ask for input from your learners. You can use any of the frameworks listed above or request a feedback sandwich (naming two successful approaches and one that could be refined).

With a roadmap for effective learning facilitation, video conferencing is a robust and flexible tool for distance learning. The model works well with a traditional or flipped classroom approach, and some platforms allow you to record live sessions. This option equally benefits students who are unable to attend, students who experience connectivity issues, and students who wish to review the material.

To learn more about effective distance learning via video conference, and to receive additional guidance on this topic, please contact us at [email protected].

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