Using Discussion Protocols to Actively Engage Students in Collaborative Learning in Live Online Classes

Submitted by Laura Popovici on
What is the Purpose of the Assessment?

When the COVID19 pandemic came, some courses transitioned from in-person to a live online format. Students were not readily participating in collaborative group work in their breakout rooms.

Describe the necessity for this assessment

Faculty observed that most students were working alone and not talking in their breakout rooms. Faculty adapted discussion protocols used previously in-person to the live online format. 

Describe how the practice will be implemented

As we transitioned from in-person learning to the live online format, faculty learned new technology (Zoom, Webex, Google) and adapted the discussion protocols used during in-person teaching to the live online setting. Faculty applied the adapted protocols in the classroom and modified these based on student feedback in the form of a questionnaire. Workshops, meetings, and in-class support were provided to faculty who utilized the discussion protocols in their classrooms. 

Interpret, compare, and describe the results

By implementing the discussion protocols to our live online classrooms, students reported active engagement in the task and an exchange of ideas leading to deeper thinking and understanding. Faculty were able to observe student participation and contribution in real time and to offer immediate feedback. Based on student and faculty feedback in the form of questionnaires, we were able to use this preliminary data to design a larger project for the 2021-2022 academic year. 

After analyzing, and reflecting on the outcome, what are the next steps?

Once our preliminary data was analyzed, Reading faculty came together and proposed a project for the 2021-2022 academic year to further look at the use of discussion protocols in both in-person and live online settings to actively engage students in collaborative learning. We will continue to work with our Reading faculty and include faculty from other disciplines in implementing discussion protocols in the classroom. We will also continue to analyze our data to make improvements.


Using discussion protocols in a live online learning format promotes independent student collaboration and engagement in group discussions through quality instruction and student support. In conjunction with the use of Google documents and live online breakout rooms (Zoom, Webex, or Google Meets), protocols drive independent student discussion and collaboration using a set of guidelines that include student roles and responsibilities. Discussion protocols also allow for fostering student-to-student relationships and for providing immediate real-time feedback by faculty. Additionally, protocols empower students by holding them responsible for their work and by building their indepenedent thinking. Students become personally responsible for their learning and are held accountable for their participation and contribution to discussions. The role of faculty becomes one of facilitator supporting students in their breakout rooms. Protocols lead to collaborative discussion that fosters students' independent thinking while holding them accountable for their learning. 

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Average: 3.7 (17 votes)


Laura Popovici Mon, 05/10/2021 - 2:03pm

Our hope is to provide faculty with a resource bank of discussion protocols to use in their classrooms to engage students in group work.

Becky Baranowski Wed, 05/19/2021 - 11:24am

Laura - thanks for taking the time to document what you and your colleagues are doing to increase student engagement during these Covid times. I look forward to seeing your results next year after you implement your action plan.