Educational Development Digest: April 2020

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Pedagogy and Practice

Using a face to face small group strategy (Jigsaw) in an online environment 

Prior to COVID-19, the students in your classes may have spent time moving in and out of small group discussion, peer review, lab groups, or problem-solving groups as you circulated around the room checking in with groups observing, providing guidance, and redirecting. The abrupt shift from face to face classes to online has left many faculty wondering if they can still utilize the same active learning and cooperative learning strategies in their new online environments.  

The good news is yes, you can adapt many traditional face to face active and cooperative learning strategies to the online environment. Let’s take a closer look at the cooperative learning strategy Jigsaw and how this might be adapted to online using both Zoom and D2L Brightspace.  

What is the Jigsaw strategy?  

If you immediately pictured a jigsaw puzzle, then you are already on the right track. The broad brush stroke is a jigsaw is a small group activity where each participant becomes an expert on their section of a reading, skill, or specific topic who then shares this expertise with the rest of their group. Each participant is a piece in the jigsaw puzzle. Between the group’s initial gathering and the sharing of expertise, group members disassemble and form new expert groups to discuss the common content and determine how to best share the content or skill with their initial jigsaw group. This video from the Cult of Pedagogy illustrates this process.  

How can I make this work online? 

Jigsaws can be implemented both synchronously (Zoom) and asynchronously (D2L Brightspace). In Zoom, instructors can utilize breakout rooms to send students into small groups (either jigsaw or expert groups) and circulate just as in the face to face classroom. The instructor can move between groups in breakout rooms to observe and answer questions. Students also have the ability to flag the instructor to their room to ask specific questions.  

You can identify groups in advance or assign them in real time during a synchronous class and provide a range of structure for students during group breakouts as well. For example, you may provide discussion questions to guide or prompt conversation and require a written plan for sharing the expert’s knowledge when reconnecting with the original jigsaw group.  

You may call everyone back to the main Zoom room and then redistribute students into breakout rooms based on their original jigsaw groups to share expert knowledge, determine connections between the sections, and synthesize the article as a whole. If you run out of time, this may happen during the next synchronous class meeting as well. 

The jigsaw strategy can be implemented in an asynchronous environment too utilizing the Groups and Discussion tools in D2L Brightspace. On April 8, 2020 at 10 am, we will host a D2L Brightspace webinar focusing on how to use these tools with practical applications such as implementing an asynchronous Jigsaw. You can also take advantage of the Minnesota State Drop-in sessions for specific questions. 

In both scenarios, students are active in collaboration with an emphasis on shared responsibility and accountability. Learn more about using breakout rooms in Zoom in the Academic Technology Tips below.

NED Event Highlight

Events to support the transition to online teaching

Minnesota State continues to offer opportunities to support you and your teaching during this time of COVID-19. As we ask our students to embrace a growth mindset as they transition into unfamiliar territory, we should also embrace a growth mindset about our technological capacity and implementation of new modalities as we too transition into unfamiliar territory. 

We invite you to attend upcoming D2L Brightspace webinars to continue your learning about getting started in online teaching.

Ongoing opportunities to develop or refresh your pedagogical skills are available to both new and established full and part time teaching faculty through the Teaching and Learning Competency Courses that are offered each semester.  Additional information about how to sign up for these courses, who is required to participate, and overview of course content is located in the Network for Educational Development (NED) Resources Site: Teaching and Learning Competency Courses.  

Academic Technology Tips

Leveraging Breakout Rooms for Small Group Online Learning 

Watch a video overview of how to use Breakout Rooms.

Small group learning can be used to improve individual achievement. With virtual connections, we can still provide this experience and maintain proper social distancing. 

Breakout Rooms in Zoom are a wonderful way to quickly provide opportunities for small group activities. If the desire is to have a quick impromptu discussion around various topics and you would like more engagement from your students, you can try to use automatic Breakout Rooms in Zoom.   

To access the Breakout Rooms during your Zoom meeting click on the Breakout Rooms icon located on the Zoom control panel.  

If you are not in a full screen view or if you are sharing content, the Breakout Rooms option will move to the …More group on the control panel. 

Automatically assign the desired number of breakout rooms and click on Create Rooms. 

Students are automatically divided up into their rooms but you have the option to move participants or adjust the automatic assignments if needed. If they are logged to with their StarID credentials their name will display as it is in the single-sign on directory.  This makes it much easier to identify students from the class roster and sort them into the groups desired. 

Feel free to rename the rooms and when ready click Open All Rooms

If you have it set to Move all participants into breakout rooms automatically the students will be transitioned without the need to confirm leaving the main session or other rooms. 

Hosts can join any breakout room through the Breakout Rooms menu. 

The green status icon before the student’s name indicates that they are in the breakout room specified.

To quickly communicate with all students in their small groups, you can Broadcast a message to all participants. 

When you are ready to bring the group back together click on the Close All Rooms and depending on your count down timer set in the options, your breakout sessions will end and everyone will be moved to the main session again. 

Breakout rooms have full video, audio and sharing capabilities but are restricted to local recordings.   

Initiatives Update

Academic Continuity Resources 

Visit to find resources for faculty who are moving their courses online. The resources include: 

  • An example communication plan to share with your students 
  • Equity minded principles for alternative instruction 
  • A sample student readiness survey to gauge your students’ readiness and ability to use tools like Zoom or D2L Brightspace 
  • Strategies to prevent unwanted visitors in your Zoom meetings – “Zoombombing” 
  • FAQ regarding recording lectures in distance learning 
  • A guide to alternative instruction
  • An online teaching etiquette checklist
  • Step-by-step guides and videos to help Minnesota State employees with the many features of D2L Brightspace, Zoom, and Kaltura MediaSpace
  • Resources from the vendors themselves

As always, there are resources on the NED Resource Site focused on course design, assessment, and instructional strategies.

In addition, we have a page of resources for students at  

Share Your Voice

Contribute to Keep Teaching: Discipline-Specific Resources and Discussions 

Thanks to all who organized, facilitated, and participated in the event “Keep Teaching: Great Minnesota State Disciplinary Get Together” on March 25, 2020. We had over 1,800 participants in 17 discipline-specific rooms discussing resources, sharing advice, and addressing concerns within their discipline. 

Here are a few of the unique ways faculty are getting around the barriers of teaching at a distance: 

  • A printmaker is showing their students how to make a home studio using stuff they likely have laying around the house 
  • Another fine arts teacher will be transitioning away from physical materials to teaching students digital tools like Adobe products that they don’t normally have 
  • Chemistry faculty contributed to an enormous list of linked resources which has been making rounds through chemistry departments across the state
  • A percussionist is mailing table-top marimba diagrams to their students so they can at least keep their muscle memory 

To continue to have a place for disciplines across the system to share resources and have discussions, we have turned the SharePoint page that was used for the event into Keep Teaching: Discipline-Specific Resources and Discussions.

Each discipline has:

  • a folder for resources
  • a shared notebook
  • a recording from the event (where possible)
  • a place for faculty to have discipline-specific discussions using Teams

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