Category Archives: 2. Featured Articles

Promoting Active Learning in Remote Classrooms

Most of us have long incorporated active learning techniques as a way to engage students with course content. In business communication, these strategies may include breaking students into groups to work on short exercises; creating team-based writing assignments; forming discussion groups to consider business-related issues while bolstering social and communication skills; and asking students to reflect upon their learning processes.

However, active learning in remote learning situations may require adjustments. Below are some techniques to help instructors encourage engaged learning during the pandemic.

Minute papers. At the end of class, ask students to answer the questions, What was the most important thing you learned today? and What questions do you have that are still unanswered? This works especially well toward the end of a live Zoom session or on a discussion board. Having students reflect on the day’s activities reinforces what they know and reminds them of what they still need to learn. In addition, if students know they will be expected to write this quick response, they may even pay more attention during the session.

Collaborative notetaking. In groups of two or three, students rotate through the primary notetaking role during class lectures in a Google doc created for that purpose, later sharing the notes among the team or with the entire class. This tactic encourages active listening.

Group work. Group work can be arranged in several ways. Groups of four or five can answer questions the instructor poses about a specific lesson using Zoom breakout rooms or other apps the groups choose themselves. Similarly, instructors can ask students to work individually on a project while in groups, allowing students to connect, chat, or ask questions at the peer level.

Online group work can also be a method for students to develop critical thinking skills. This is particularly relevant to the business communication classroom, where discussing ethics is timely and relevant. (Check out newsworthy topics under the BizComBuzz tab News You Can Use.)

Break up lectures with activities. In either videotaped or live sessions, instructors introduce topics during lectures followed by any of a number of active learning techniques such as the following:

  • Polling using iClicker, Poll Everywhere, or Zoom polling
  • Low-stakes quizzes to help check understanding and reinforce concepts via embedding a quiz in a Panopto video or Kaltura Quizzes
  • Peer learning, especially peer editing with guided questions for a specific assignment to reinforce the importance of editing in either a synchronous or asynchronous class session

Incorporating one or several of these strategies will help your students feel more connected to you and the course material.

Taking a Scalpel to Wordy Prose

By Janet Mizrahi

Communicating in the world of work requires getting to the point quickly and making that point clearly and concisely. But our students have been rewarded for beefing up their prose to make word or page count for years. Consequently, one of the most important lessons we can teach business communication students is to eliminate wordiness in their writing.

I feel so strongly about conciseness that I dedicate several class sessions to teaching students to trim their prose. In the first session, I lead my class through strategies to foster pithy prose found in the Guffey/Loewy textbooks: cutting wordy expressions; eliminating long lead-ins; avoiding fillers such as there is/are and it is/were; removing redundancies; and axing empty words.

Then I have students complete several exercises to reinforce these writing strategies, assigning some in class as individual work and some for homework. (See Revising for Conciseness, Using Bullets for Surefire Reading Comprehension, and Keeping It Simple under the Classroom Exercise tab.)

This all leads up to a more in-depth assignment, The Conciseness Exercise (downloadable at the end of this post), which I grade as homework or participation. It works like this.

First, I ask students write about 500 words as part of their individual section of a team produced long report. I ask them to not edit this draft, which they write at home, and to have a hard copy when we do the in-class workshop, explaining that we will go through a series of steps during which they will cut the number of words by half.

The day we do the Conciseness Exercise, we go through eight steps that lead to a complete rewrite. I regularly remind students to be aware of word count and to recall the conciseness strategies we’ve discussed and that they’ve worked on previously. I keep tight control over what the students are doing and tell them not to move forward to the next step until I discuss it with the entire class. After completing this activity, students compare their original to the edited version and are often shocked by how wordy the original was.

While I cannot boast that all students leave my classroom as tight writers, these exercises have consistently garnered comments at the end of the class in which students say they are grateful to have learned to write more concisely. I hope they actually do.

Here is the Conciseness Exercise for you to download. Happy Editing!

Remote Teaching Tips: Improving Breakout Groups

In large lecture halls or intimate classrooms, college instructors have traditionally broken students into small groups to collaborate. But in the move to remote learning, using this time-tested practice has hit some bumps along the road. Use the following tips to improve breakout groups when you teach online.

  1. Assign students to learning groups of four to five at the beginning of the semester. Allow students to determine how they will reach one another to work together. Alternatively, specify which app you would prefer they use. Have students work in these groups for the entire term, so that anytime groupwork is assigned, they already have a communication channel in place.
  2. Prepare students for group work sessions. Make sure you have laid the groundwork to complete the assigned group work. For example, if the groups are analyzing a poorly written document, they must first understand the characteristics of a well-written document.
  3. Help avoid student confusion by clarifying the purpose of the group session. Remote learning requires more focus than face-to-face, so provide students with clear written and oral instructions. One of the ways to make sure students understand what they are supposed to do during a breakout session is to first explain the outcome of the task to the entire class and then pose the question,Can you each write down the purpose of this task?
  4. Prepare clear instructions for the group work task. Provide students with a written explanation on the course website or in Google Docs that includes an introduction or background (similar to what has been discussed in class synchronously) and specific tasks or discussion questions the group must complete.
  5. Inform students about grading. Tell the class whether the teamwork will be graded individually, as a group, or as homework, while also informing them of when (or whether) it is due at a later date.
  6. Give groups the right amount of time to complete the discussion or task. This is no mean feat. Groups work at different paces, but the death knell to online teamwork is for students to either scurry to finish because not enough time is allotted, or because they have finished and are twiddling their thumbs until the class comes together again.
  7. Monitor groups’ progress. Check in with the groups as you would if you were in a classroom. Many course management systems have this function built in, or, you may prefer using Slack of MS Teams. Similarly, if you assign students to work collaboratively on a document you’ve created in Google Docs, you can look at what the students have written by opening the shared document.
  8. Prepare yourself for the technological side of remote group work. Be sure you understand how to use Zoom’s screen sharing, group messaging, and whiteboard functions. Importantly, learn how to secure your Zoom session from Zoom-bombing. Set a new password for each meeting and use the waiting room feature.

Perhaps the best benefit of remote groupwork is that students have time to talk to one another while learning. Such moments can build bonds and connections that enhance their education during these difficult times.