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Class-Sourcing Interaction: Online Agendas, Notes, Discussions

Mon Nov 22, 2021 at 07:30 AM

The global pandemic of 2020-2021 forced instructors to pivot pedagogy in unprecedented ways. Many of us experimented with new strategies and approaches to engaging with students online (both synchronously and asynchronously). Some of these experiments are worth carrying forward. One that I will be carrying forward is using a single online shared electronic document (e.g., Google Docs) to engage students with course materials, instructional questions and discussions, and class notes. 

For a fully online and asynchronous course, I drafted a weekly template of a class session in a Google Doc. Every week, I updated the template to include wrap up information from the prior week, general announcements for all, this week’s agenda, discussion questions, and other activities – all completed within the Google Doc as a home-base. Activities included things like a section to add their main takeaway (and their main “remaining question”) about that week’s readings, applying their understanding by contributing an example of their own lived experiences to a topic from that week, and responding to other students’ ideas and writing. Each week, students engaged in the Google Doc at their own convenience with respect to timing. By the end of the week with a class of about 20 master’s-level students, the Google Doc often grew to 50 pages or more in one week!

To facilitate navigating the growing document each week, I relied on using the Google Doc’s heading structures and styles, and features such as the built-in Table of Contents tool. Additionally, I built this in to the learning goals of the course for students to gain facility in using these accessibility tools, in an effort to increase their skills at creating online digital content that is accessible. 

As with all experiments, I would make changes in the next iteration. For one, some students were challenged with the sheer quantity of interaction in a written modality. On the one hand, it was primarily more “conversational” and “informal” interaction (akin to active class discussions, whilst being asynchronous and online). On the other hand, it was a lot of text every week! That said, I will definitely be carrying this approach forward in my someday “post-pandemic” teaching. While I may not use this approach every week and/or with so much in each online Google Doc assignment, it was a valuable way of facilitating student interaction in a fully asynchronous way.


Schley, S., Duckles, B., & Blili-Hamelin, B. 2021. Open Knowledge and collaborative documents. Journal of Faculty Development, 34(3), 94-95.

Thanks to Drs. Borhane Blili-Hamelin, Beth Duckles, Carol Marchetti, and Eleanor Feingold for copious discussion expansion of these ideas in practice.

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About the Author

Sara Schley, Ed.D. is Full Professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Director of the Research Center for Teaching and Learning at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, and an award-winning post-secondary teacher. She contributed this tip to a teaching tips collection gathered among the POD Network of educational developers.

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