Redesigning Class Discussions and Final Class Presentations in an American Studies Course

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portrait of Molly Mead looking at camera

Molly Mead

My class, Active Citizenship, was scheduled to meet twice a week. After Spring Break and the shift to remote teaching, we met synchronously once a week, on Wednesdays, as an entire class. During the other class period, on Mondays, I organized students into small groups and gave them specific instructions for these conversations. Students designated one of their classmates to post on Moodle the highlights of their conversations for other students to see and as a way for me to monitor how those conversations were proceeding. The quality of the posts and remarks students made at the end of the semester assured me that the Monday conversations were substantial. My not being present in those groups challenged students to take more responsibility for their learning; they met the challenge.

The feedback that I received from students indicated that they appreciated that we kept meeting and the community that we developed over Zoom. Students also said they liked meeting in small groups on Monday without the instructor present. They found they took even more responsibility for their learning. They also appreciated having extended time (one hour) to talk with a small group of their classmates. 

I was also able to use breakout rooms to gather feedback from students about how the course was working for them. I started one class by assigning students to breakout rooms on Zoom and asked them to individually talk with me about how easy it was to focus on academics now that they were home with pandemic news swirling around. I learned that some of them were struggling emotionally and others having trouble finding a quiet room. I responded by relaxing due dates for assignments. At the same time I told them that focusing on academics could be good for their mental health. Our class would be one constant in their lives. They told me later that the class had, indeed, been an oasis — something they looked forward to every week.  They also told me they appreciated my flexibility on due dates. They were grateful for the relief of that pressure.

The topic of the course, Active Citizenship, easily leant itself to focusing on COVID. I realize that many courses couldn't do that. Still, I made significant changes to the syllabus after spring break. One such change was the final assignment; in the modified assignment, I asked students to prepare 10 minute presentations of what content in the readings, class discussions, hands-on activities, and written assignments had an impact on them. I then met with students in groups of 3 to hear their presentations, which were excellent. The assignment required students to review the semester — a primary purpose of a final exam. One purpose of education is to have the opportunity to change your mind, and to think about things you have never thought about before. I heard examples of both from my students. Additionally, I was surprised by students describing something I thought hadn't gone that well as being particularly impactful for them.

Snapshot of Coursework — Presentations

Below are examples of the final presentations in this course, in which students described what content from the readings, class discussions, hands-on activities and written assignments had an impact on their thinking and learning.

first slide of PowerPoint - Active Citizenship: the Power of Thought and Action


first slide of C Burkhart PowerPoint presentation


first slide of PowerPoint presentation