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Helping Online Teachers (HOT) Topics


This is a space where I'm going to try to write about the next steps for anyone unexpectedly transferring their course to online.  For those teaching, the goal is to provide one idea each day that you can try with your class.  Topics will include ideas for leading a group discussion, eliciting and interpreting individual students' thinking, setting up and managing small group work, providing oral and written feed back, and many more. The topic today is participation and it is a little longer than usual and too much to digest in one sitting. Future entries will be shorter and more limited.  Feel free to send me comments and questions.


While most traditional instructors have an idea what participation looks like in their average class.  Many have not spelled it out completely hoping that a shared experience of "being in classes" helps to define the construct.  When students shift to online instruction, the shared experience of holding class no longer holds.  The first thing that instructors should do is to reevaluate what counts as participation.  

Participation is often defined as active participation in class activities which is often a default grade in most of the classes. That is students get full credit in participation if they show up and don't offend anyone along the way.  For online courses, teachers should be much more precise about what constitutes good participation.  Here are some things to consider and my suggestions.

Asynchronous course tools

What a​sychronous methods will replace what you were doing in class?

  • I suggest figuring out how to use the discussion board to facilitate in-class discussions.  This will be discussed in a later post.
  • Having class leaders each week can help facilitate online discussions
  • Online quizzes can help you see how many students are ready for class. 
  • Kahoot!s that you would have done in class can be done out of class.
  • Students can be assigned chat partners with whom they complete speaking tasks (in a chat) and submit transcripts. 

What quantity and quality of work is expected?

  • If you are using the discussion board, you'll need to specify how much (e.g., 2 times per week, once a day) students should post.
  • It should also be clear what they should post (original content or responses to others), the length (50-250 words), and, ideally, why they are posting it (other than to satisfy your requirements)

How have the deadlines changed? 

  • Usually you give more time to complete work. This means that larger projects, especially group projects are due later than they would be normally.
  • Instead of being due at the regular class time, I suggest midnight before class meets.  Students then just know that they must turn it in the day before class and it is less stressful.

Synchronous course meetings

What kind of participation is expected? 

  • Again, my opinion is that it shoudl be clear that students are expected to speak the target language, volunteer and ask questions. Students should  interact with appropriate onine skills--Instructors should make these clear but I would start with making sure everyone knows how react in Zoom using "raise hand, "thumbs up," and the "clapping hands".  I would also make sure they know the yes/no/slower/faster signals.  
  • Students should know how to work in groups. Instructors should start with simple tasks using the chat function for groups and the breakout rooms function for groups.
  • Students show good particiaption when they are cooperative and have a good attitude.  While you cannot always measure attitude, you can make it clear from the onset that this is new for everyone and what helps most is to be resilient, have a good attitude, and expect things to go wrong and try to fix them.  

How is participation measured?

  • Here, I know I take a radical approach because I don't assess the students; I usually have students self-assess.  I made this worksheet available on google docs; students complete the form and submit it as an assignment for class. I've adapted it for online purposes.