Using video as proxy for a class discussion

A case classroom at the Ross School of Business

I am going to be offering a blended version of a class that I have offered the last three years as a pure case discussion class (which I have discussed a bit before). I don’t currently know what percentage will be face-to-face versus online, but I’m guessing that over half (and maybe up to 3/4) will be online. I need to come up with a way to move the class online while still offering the benefits of a case class.


I do believe that students benefit in several ways from a case class:

  • Being put on the spot to discuss a situation with a professor,
  • Have a give-and-take with the professor (and other students),
  • Hearing the opinions (often contradictory) of other students,
  • Defending his/her position against challenges.

This is all very useful to these undergraduates, and are some of the major benefits of the case discussion method.


A recent change for this class is that I am moving the bulk of my class online. The second is that I am hoping that the class continues to grow so that I have more than the 60-75 students that I have had the previous three offerings. The question becomes how can many students continue to get the benefits of the case discussion method (or, at least, many of them) while taking the class online?


When teaching a case class, 95-100% of the class speaks at least once every 3 hour class period. I certainly didn’t see how I could carry this off over video. I was stumped for a while but I had several insights the other day.

  • I realized that no one student ever spoke more than four times during a class, and almost never more than 2-3 total minutes. Add that up over the semester and it’s entirely possible that no one student ever spoke for more than 30 minutes over an entire semester, with most totaling more like 15-20 minutes. (These are rough estimates.)
  • Many, many students want to say something nearly every time I ask a question, and feel like they don’t get to make the points that they want to make most of the time.
  • Two of the benefits listed above come from listening to other students, forming opinions based on that conversation, and forming defenses of his/her position against those other opinions.

Proposed solution

I am still working through the details, but I am thinking that every week we could have a process that goes something like the following.

Google+ Hangout
  1. Groups of three randomly-chosen students would be assigned to read two cases and answer some simple questions about them.
  2. The answers of all students would be made public, and a new set of more in-depth and analytic questions would be made public.
  3. A pre-assigned set of 4-8 students would prepare for an online discussion about those questions, plus lingering questions from the first set of questions. If we had 2 cases per week, then this would give up to (2x8x12) 192 students per semester the chance to go through this experience. Or, if I had 60 students, then each student could have 3 chances per semester.
  4. The rest of the students would only have to think about those questions, but in no way have to prepare.
  5. I could have a conversation over Google+ Hangout (especially OnAir) with that set of of 4-8 students in which we go over their thoughts about the second set of questions (plus other stuff that might come up). I assume that each Hangout would last about 30 minutes.
  6. The rest of the students in the class could watch the Hangout live or watch it recorded on YouTube.
  7. One third of the students in the class other than the students involved in the Hangout would be responsible for submitting a write-up related to the second set of questions. Another third would be responsible for critiquing a couple of those responses. The final third would be responsible for commenting on the responses. Authors would be able to respond to the critiques and comments as they see fit.


Looking back at the benefits that I list at the beginning, I believe that this new structure does a pretty reasonable job of delivering those benefits. Students are put on the spot in the Hangouts. They have exchanges with the professor and students in the Hangouts. Those students plus the audience gets to hear the opinions of those students. Certainly, the students in the video have to defend their positions (from the students and the professor). Additionally, in the follow-up writing assignment, the students in the writing and commenting roles are all learning to formulate arguments for a position and defend an argument against attacks.

Like I said, I am still working through the details but I think I have come up with a promising proposal. Has anyone tried anything like this? If so, please share your experiences with me through twitter or the comments below. Thanks!

Delivery of blended courses

Higher education administrators and faculty (and students, for that matter) at traditional universities are comfortable thinking about, planning, and participating in face-to-face (F2F) classes. Administrators and faculty for online programs are comfortable thinking about using technology to deliver courses exclusively using technology. When those of us in traditional higher ed have used technology more recently, it has been to capture F2F lectures for later viewing. More extensive, integrated, and nuanced usage is needed in order to take full advantage of the technology and thereby deliver a superior education. We need to develop a more extensive playbook of pedagogies that we are comfortable employing.

When thinking about using educational technologies in a class or across the curriculum, you need to have a playbook of possible approaches available to you so that you can have a better chance of achieving the learning outcomes you desire. For face-to-face teaching, we have a selection — lecture, case discussion, lab work, and mini-lectures interspersed with exercises to name a few. We need to just as comfortable pulling out different approaches when different class set-ups are available to us. The following is an exploration of different technologies that can be used to support different pedagogies.

Playbook of pedagogies

As detailed in my earlier post How to provide a great, lower-cost education, several different teaching approaches are now available to professors:

  • Same time, same place (“synchronous, co-located”)
  • Same time (“synchronous, non-co-located”)
    • single remote place
      • high quality
      • normal quality
    • multiple remote places
      • singles
      • groups
  • Different times (“asynchronous”)

In the following I examine each of these and discuss the general technologies that are applicable to each.

Technologies for pedagogies

I am going to start with the synchronous (and especially a co-located) approach because I am assuming that the blended course will have some of this as part of the class. However, just because it is face-to-face doesn’t mean that technology is now not a part of the equation. Many technologies are in place that can support learning even in this most traditional setup.

Same time (all versions)

Classes in which the teacher and students are all participating at the same time (regardless of location) have lots of available tools. The professor can use MediaSite to record a lecture so that students can watch it later or, if they were not able to attend for whatever reason, watch it for the first time. When giving a lecture or otherwise looking for student responses, tools are available for allowing the professor or student to ask questions. LectureTools, Socrative, and PollEverywhere each have their own take on allowing a professor to ask questions and students to answer. (See my recent post on this topic for more details.) Either TodaysMeet or Twitter (along with TwitterFall) can be used to provide a backchannel that allows students to ask questions during a presentation.

For controlling the presentation while in front of the students, the professor can either use a wireless presentation pointer (e.g., Kensington Wireless Presentation Pointer) or Doceri. Doceri is like a wireless mouse for the iPad but it also allows the presenter to write directly on the screen over the slides (or whatever is on the screen). This software also allows the user to control the computer using the iPad. This software doesn’t enable the professor to necessarily do anything new, but it frees him/her up to move around the classroom more. It does make it easier for the professor to give control of the presentation to a student; all he has to do is give the iPad to the student instead of calling her up to the podium at the front of the classroom. If you want more information about this, then see my video demonstration and explanation.

If the professor is more interested in in-class activities and exercises, then Eggtimer can be useful so that students can better allocate their time usage during class. Another useful tool for in-class activities is a group text editor, and Google Docs provides quite a robust web app for this. (At this time the iPad app is not recommended; work on a laptop if you want to use Google Docs.) Students can work in ad hoc groups while brainstorming or developing an answer to some question, or the professor can assign groups and make the documents available in each person’s Google Drive, giving the right students access to the appropriate documents. Another tool for multi-user access to a shared document is Scribblar. This program is more of a graphical editor where multiple users can draw in a shared space; it also provides a tool for users to text each other and to speak to each other. It allows the import of PDF and PPT files for group editing and commenting. They maintain a set of videos that help demonstrate and explain the program’s operations.

Finally, faculty frequently want to provide “handouts” at the end of class. If these consist of links from around the Web, sqworl provides an easy-to-use tool (for both the professor and the student) for gathering the links and accessing them later. If the professor has text to distribute, then Google Docs can be used to make PDFs or Word documents available to a distribution list (such as the students in a class).

Same time, same place (“synchronous & co-located”)

All of the above applies here.

Same time, single remote place, high quality

It seems that Cisco telepresence has defined this market. To get an idea of what this product can do, look at the images on this page. The idea here is that two groups of people, who can be half-way around the world from each other, can have a nearly-face-to-face conversation over this type of hook-up. The two limitations are 1) high cost, and 2) each side has to have compatible hardware and telecommunications capability.

This approach is one that is made at the organizational level. All other decisions would be made after this choice because it changes what options you have available to you, such as size of the classroom and interaction strategies.

Same time, single remote place, normal quality

In addition to the information under “Same time”, the professor can use Google+ Hangouts On Air to broadcast his lecture or discussion (or whatever) live to YouTube. This web app also can record the broadcast for whomever you want to watch at a later time (with the same controls as any other YouTube video).

The real difference between this setup and the one to follow is how you treat the class. In this case, you can treat them as a group, and give them things to do as a group. They would generally know how to act and what to do because communication among the students would not be electronically mediated in any way.

Same time, multiple remote places (singles vs. groups), normal quality

In addition to the information under “Same time”, the professor can use Google+ Hangouts On Air to broadcast his lecture or discussion or whatever live to YouTube. This web app also can record the broadcast for whomever you want to watch (with the same controls as any other YouTube video).

The difference in having students dispersed as singles or in groups (either groups of students in dorm rooms or in offices or wherever) is, again, how you treat the class. As singles, you would have to think very carefully about how you might assign small group activities during the class itself. As groups, this would be natural and, actually, to be expected given that the setup so easily supports and calls out for these interactions. The students will be having them anyway; why not integrate them into the class?

Different times

The key to this approach is to think of how you can personalize what the student is going to do. If they are going to watch the video or do the exercise by themselves, then do all you can to take advantage of this flexibility. You aren’t addressing a group of students — think about addressing each student one at a time. Design the activities with this in mind.

I recently wrote a post describing several useful tools for video, movies, and screencasting (including Screencast-O-Matic, Qwiki, and YouTube). I also wrote a post on assessment tools that would be useful for this type of approach (including TED Ed and Flubaroo). In addition to all of these, both GarageBand and Screencast (for broadcasting via RSS feed) are useful for creating and disseminating a podcast.

Out-of-class approaches

Yesterday I posted an analysis of different approaches to communicating with your students when they are not currently sitting in front of you or remotely attending a live lecture.. In that post I consider the following approaches:

I certainly have my favorites but you have to consider your goals before you choose one (or multiple) of the above.

Class assignments have also changed with newly available technology; here are a few options:

  • Wiki
  • Curation tools
  • Mind mapping
  • Video
  • VoiceThread

See my recent post on this topic for a more in-depth discussion. This is a quite diverse set that provides many more alternatives than simply writing text reports and handing them in. These assignments can demand a different level of creativity from the students, but the faculty member has to be prepared to work with this diversity.

Finally, Google+ Hangout can be used for remote office hours. It provides a fairly seamless and straight-forward means of communicating among up to 10 people.


You can see in the above that the faculty member has lots of choices available to him/her when the move is made to a blended class. The school’s culture and technology will determine some of the choices; however, the professor’s knowledge of the choices and level of comfort with the technology will also be a large factor in how effective the class ends up being for all participants. My recommendation is to simply try out a couple of the above in a class this year. Just one day, just one approach. Work with some faculty and computing services support staff beforehand to give you some confidence that you can carry it off. However, at some point you are just going to have to do it!

Best of luck on your journey!

Faculty uses for Google+ in support of teaching

I was looking through this presentation titled “31 Ways to Use G+ in Higher Education”, and I realized that this is quite significant to my life given the recent activities that the University of Michigan is taking in rolling out Google Apps for education. While I was on the Google Faculty Leadership Committee last year and I have something of a head start moving in this direction, I have not made many efforts to adopt the various parts of Google+.

The most promising of the tools that make up Google+ is Hangout. There are actually three different types of Hangout: Hangout, Hangout with Extras, and Hangout on Air. (Here is the page for help topics for Google Hangouts.)

  • Hangout: screen and document sharing among <= 10 people with accompanying video
  • Hangout with Extras: As far as I can tell, this is simply a Hangout plus the ability to name the Hangout, thus enabling invitees to more easily join the Hangout.
  • Hangout on Air: this is a limited feature version of a Hangout but with the added ability to broadcast the hangout to the world (via YouTube). Hangouts on Air (see this very useful video overview) provides an easy to use way to share videos with a wide audience. The best analogy that I can come up with is this: You are the performer in a small coffee shop who is broadcasting the show to the whole world. Just nine people can join you in the coffee shop (Hangout) but the the whole world can see the broadcast (On Air). In addition to being able to view the broadcast live, the video (which can later be edited) is automatically saved to your YouTube account.

The following describes my thoughts on how I might adopt these the different parts of Google+ in my classes. I list them in general order of my interest and probability of adopting them.

Hold virtual office hours in Google Hangout

I have generally held office hours in the Ross Winter Garden. It is easy for students to get to, my physical presence might serve as a reminder for students of my availability, previous students might stop by and say “hello,” and future students might come over for a chat. It is a win-win situation all around. Unfortunately, attendance at my office hours is sparse at best (other than the day before an assignment is due so I think it’s possible that another approach is needed.

It is always the case that some students can’t make it by during my office hours for whatever reason — they might be off-campus or they might have another meeting. I could use a Hangout a short couple of times a week even if I’m not on campus to meet with students when they are available — even one-on-one if necessary. For office hours a couple of days a week I could open a Hangout for 30 minutes or so in case students want to ask questions. While I have the Hangout window open, up to ten students at a time could attend.

A typical user of Google+ Hangout

A typical user of Google+ Hangout

Review a document with a student in a Hangout

You can start a Hangout with a particular student if you want to review his/her paper. You can share your screen with that student and point to parts of the paper while discussing it over video; if the document is a Google Doc, then you can actually collaboratively edit the document while in the Hangout. If you aren’t able to get together with a student for some reason, or if time is of the essence, then this certainly could be a useful tool to have available.

Hold meetings with distant teams

For student teams that you are working with (especially those located off-campus), using Google Hangout as a way to meet with the whole team seems like an easy and obvious win-win. Here at Michigan Ross, this should be particularly useful given out focus on action-based learning.

Use Hangouts on Air

I can see Hangouts on Air being useful mainly (probably due to a lack of imagination right now) if I had been asked to clarify a topic between classes and wanted to provide an answer before our next meeting. I could schedule a Hangout on Air broadcast for a specific time, up to nine students could join the Hangout, and then any other interested students could watch the broadcast on YouTube. I could also keep a chat window open at the same time so that anyone could ask questions.

Google+ Circles

Circles are definitely useful.

Create Circles as a quick way of sharing information with groups

I’m less sure about the usefulness of Circles. Don’t get me wrong — it’s a good concept — you know, wheels and all that. I’m just worried that students won’t want another stream of information to check during the day. However, if these do catch on, then faculty could use different Circles to share information with TAs, with specific teams or projects, or with the whole class.

No matter what I think about the usefulness of Circles per se, if a faculty member is going to use Hangouts, then he/she would definitely want to set up a Circle with all the students (plus TAs and graders) as members. This would enable a much easier way of targeting a Hangout to the class. The Circle can also be used to gather questions for the next lecture. It can also be used as a place to post answers to questions asked during office hours.

Use Google+Pages as a home page for the class

Finally, using Google+ Pages as a home page for the class is a convenience, again, if the class is going to have Hangouts (and an associated Circle). This provides a bit more clearly demarcated home for the class (and Hangouts and questions & answers); however, beyond that, I don’t see much functionality that attracts me. I have always appreciated having several separate streams of information that can be accessed (e.g., formal announcements from the professor, informal chat among class members, assignment announcements) and Google+ (Circles and Pages and Hangouts) are generally organized around one big stream of information — and it is actually called a Stream, so this isn’t a mistaken observation on my part. I still think there’s some need for a more structured course home page provided by a CMS or wiki (but, shockingly, I could be wrong).

Feedback desired!

What do you think about these technologies and their associated possibilities and pitfalls? I’m generally excited about trying some of them out on a larger scale (than just with my friends and family) but others of them I’m less sure. Is this something that you are excited about? Or does danger seem to be lurking?