Every teacher knows how important it is to allow people time to talk to a peer before sharing with a wider group.
Lyman’s research (1981) showed that the quality of response you get from students improves if they are given even a very
short time to think about things, and talking with a partner, before sharing with the wider group.
This effect has also been shown with adult learners: in medicine (Rao & DiCarlo, 2000), biology (McClanahan & McClanahan, 2002), genetics (Smith et al., 2009), exercise physiology (Cortright, Collins & DiCarlo, 2005), economics (Maier & Keenan, 1994), physics (Crouch & Mazur, 2001), mathematics (Sampsel, 2013), and anthropology (Barkley, Cross & Major, 2014).
Of course this makes perfect sense – if you have time to think and talk through an idea in a smaller, less scary group, you’ll feel more confident then sharing it with a bigger group. This has clear implications for online learning. I have run and attended a number of online CPD sessions since March, and have found that it is really hard to get a good discussion going in a big group on a video call. So I was very excited to see a tweet from Google introducing their new Break Out Rooms feature. You can do this randomly, or more thoughtfully, by dragging and dropping their names into the room of your choice.
As the leader of the session, you can then pop into each break out room separately to check on how it’s going, in the same way you would walk around a classroom, hovering over a group and listening in, perhaps interjecting with a prompt, question or suggestion. And you can call everyone back to your main room at the click of a button (an improvement on having to shout or count-down to bring your groups back together in person).
When I used this in my CPD sessions, it went exactly as expected. The quality of discussion was much better in the smaller groups in break out rooms than it had been in previous sessions, where we’d all been together in a large group. The feedback from participants was that it was easy to use, and that the small groups really improved the quality of discussion they were able to have. I’d thoroughly recommend colleagues investigate this new feature – I suspect I’ll still be using it to bring staff together from different schools even when COVID and lockdowns are a distant memory…
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