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October 17, 2017

Johanna Robb: Using Zoom to Elevate Student Engagement

When Johanna Robb began teaching online courses, she wanted a connection beyond written interaction. With her experience working in the U.S. Department of Energy, she understood the importance of using tools such as Zoom to connect with colleagues across the country and made it part of the learning experience. We asked Johanna about her background and what it was like to hold synchronous meetings throughout the quarter and the impact it had on the classroom.

Q. What is your professional background and what motivated you to teach?
I have a master’s degree in Public Policy and worked in the policy development arena. After observing similar leadership and communication challenges in multiple organizations, I became increasingly interested in remedying these issues through coaching, facilitation, and leadership development. After obtaining the necessary certifications, my career path shifted and I began leading team workshops, designing organizational development programs, and facilitating leadership training.

I love teaching. I get so much out of it, as I learn so much from each student. And I’m inspired to teach because I believe that coaching, facilitation, and presentation skills are skills that every aspiring leader can and should learn.

Q. When did you start teaching at University College and how long have you been teaching online courses?
Going into my first online course in March 2017, I was skeptical about being able to achieve the COMM 4002 learning objectives through written discussion alone. As such, I wanted to make the class and the associated weekly assignments as interactive as possible. In doing so, I believed the students would learn more, retain more, and enjoy the course more.

We held an optional virtual meeting each week. During each virtual discussion, I provided an instructional lecture and facilitated the subsequent discussion. Sometimes, students would ask questions about other class assignments; this was helpful, as I learned what other aspects of the course were not making sense to students. At the close of each virtual meeting, I’d introduce a final exercise and allow students to complete the exercise in pairs. Zoom makes the pairing off process very easy by manually assigning pairs of students into “breakout rooms.”

Q. What inspired you to hold weekly synchronous meetings?
In my position at the US Department of Energy, our staff is spread out across the country. Video conferencing has tremendously improved relations between our geographically dispersed staff. We are lucky that similar tools are available to us through DU. Moreover, these tools are not very difficult to employ and can do wonders for improving student engagement and deepening the educational experience. Lastly, my job as an instructor is more rewarding when I can interact with the students and ascertain their progress in meeting the course objectives.

Q. What has been the biggest impact of holding these meetings? Do you find that students can connect better with each other? Are they engaging more?
The students loved the virtual discussions! They enjoyed getting to know each other via Zoom. Many of our students are not based in Denver or even Colorado. And many of these students enjoy connecting with each other, as well as their instructors. Zoom makes students feel as though they are in the same room, as opposed to thousands of miles apart. I think the relationships they developed with one another enhanced their engagement in other assignments, such as the online written discussions via Canvas.

Johanna Robb has an MPA and MA in Latin American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin She teaches in the Communication Management program.

For support with implementing teaching ideas sparked by this blog (or any others!), contact your Instructional Support Specialist.

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