Hybrid NUflex Educator Insights

Welcome to Hybrid NUflex Educator Insights, a collection of great ideas for teaching and learning in Hybrid NUflex that have been contributed by Northeastern educators.

If you would like to contribute your own insights to this growing collection, please share them with us by emailing [email protected]. We highly encourage all educators to share what they are doing to create a positive learning experience for students. Please note that shared responses will be anonymous unless we have explicit permission to include your name.

To jump to a category, click one of the category links below.


Course Climate

Creating Emotional Connection

Since I teach remotely and cannot physically experience students’ presence in the classroom, I have focused on the emotional connection among students and between me and the students, along with the need to reflect upon and embrace the situation we are in. For this, I have established a consistent “soft start” of every class by sharing music from a playlist that the students have created. We all love listening to these songs. In addition, every week I prompt the students to share something about themselves as a way of getting to know each other, such as:

  1. Something they like (food, places to eat around campus, movies, books, etc.)
  2. How they are doing in this new reality (in the limits of what they want to share)
  3. How they are planning to prepare for a test

This sharing is done in a Canvas discussion and gets rewarded with a very low-stakes participation token. Overall, the absence of social contact has required me to put much more attention into curating the pre/during/post-lecture experience, adding different ways to teach, and being very explicit and intentional in the use of my time during class. I think overall the students appreciate it.

-Alessandra Di Credico, Assistant Teaching Professor, Physics
October, 2020


Communal Drawing for Fun and Relaxation

I have a fun drawing prompt using the Zoom whiteboard at the start of class while students are coming in–something like “draw a portrait of a pet you have or one you want to have.” It is a fun way for them to relax and settle into class. Mid-semester evaluations indicate that this is a favorite feature.

-Submitted Anonymously
October, 2020


Engaging the Senses to Set the Tone for Learning

I start class with simple activities that help center us in our classroom. My goal is to engage the senses.

I play music from the class’s Spotify playlists while taking attendance. This playlist is a living document that the students are asked to engage with before our first class and throughout the semester.

While the music is playing, I do one or two of the following:

  1. Have a whiteboard open for students to draw on (Zoom settings must be selected so anyone can control the host’s desktop).
  2. Go around the room and ask students to tell us how they’re doing, in no more than three words.
  3. Launch a Zoom poll (ten questions), mixing fun questions with questions about how they are doing/feeling. (My aim: Take note of the class’s energy based on the poll results and, in turn, adjust my pacing for the class.)

One example is at the beginning of Week 7, I did a poll that opened a wonderful 10- to 15-minute conversation about our students’ practices shifting to the online and remote learning environment, which taught me a lot about my pacing and helped me set new goalposts for the rest of the semester.

-Melissa Ferrick, Professor of the Practice, College of Arts, Media, and Design
February, 2021


Creating Supportive Spaces Outside of Class Time

Something I offer outside of class is to host synchronous salon sessions weekly for unstructured “hang out” time for anyone in the class to join. Students volunteer to host these. I do not attend these sessions for longer than 10 minutes, and sometimes I do not go at all. But I do ask how it went and I always get a great rundown from them about how great it is. These are extremely popular and are really helping create community in the class.

-Melissa Ferrick, Professor of the Practice, College of Arts, Media, and Design
February, 2021

Quick Emails for Individual Check-ins

I send each student in my class an email to provide them each with individual attention. I send this from my northeastern.edu email, rather than through Canvas, as students start to ignore the Canvas notifications after a while. In the email I ask them how they’re doing, if there is anything I can do to help their learning, and give them some tips if they are lagging. I also express appreciation for students who come to class/office hours and participate a lot, as well as any other personal encouragement I can give. With 157 students, I don’t know everyone well, but a quick check-in can be sent to anyone. The response to this has been amazing. A lot of people responded with a simple, “Thanks, I’m all set!” but a bunch of students who I hadn’t heard from in a while reached out about struggles in other classes, COVID issues, senioritis and capstone design issues, and other problems they’d been having. It gave them a sense someone was paying attention to them, and gave me a chance to steer them in the right direction to whatever assistance they needed. It took me about 4 hours over a couple of days, but it was totally worth it.

Bridget Smyser, Teaching Professor and Director for Lab Space and Safety, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering
April, 2021


Additional Resources on Course Climate

Teaching Tip: Proactively Developing a Positive Course Climate
Teaching Tip: Creating a Course Climate that Enhances Learning
Teaching Tip: Supporting Our Learners in Difficult Times

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Experiential Learning

Experiential Learning and Interdependent Groups in Remote Lab Work

I teach a lab course, which is inherently difficult to do remotely. To make sure that everyone had an authentic hands-on experience and had a chance to experience positive interdependence with other students, I redesigned the labs. Specifically, I did the following:

  1. Spent the summer rewriting all the labs to use low-cost sensors that build on the Arduino-based kits that students get in First Year Engineering.
  2. Sent out kits to all the students (on and off campus) to supplement their existing kits.
  3. Had the students form lab groups of 3-4 students, with the understanding that every group had to have at least one on-campus and one remote student.
  4. Designed lab experiments that required both on-campus and at-home data to complete. For example, the students on campus measured temperature with one type of sensor, the students at home used a different type, and they combined the two data sets to compare instrument characteristics and complete the group lab report. 

Many students were very enthusiastic about the hands-on nature of the experiments and the opportunity to practice their circuit building skills.

-Bridget Smyser, Teaching Professor and Director for Lab Space and Safety, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering
October, 2020


Additional Resources on Experiential Learning

Teaching Tip: Introduction to Experiential Learning
Self-Paced Module: Experiential Course Projects for Online or On-Ground Courses
Teaching Tip: Pop-up Learning at Northeastern

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Documenting and Providing Feedback on Breakout Group Work

One tactic I’ve used a couple of times this semester is having students in breakout groups document and share their work using a Google Doc template I’ve provided to each group. During class, this allows me to monitor their progress and provide comments on their work in real-time. I can observe all of the documents, getting an up-to-date snapshot of activity. The Google Docs also help me optimize my timing of breakout room visits and to assess how much more time students need to complete the task before returning to the plenary session–during which teams present their answers and can make reference to portions of their documents.

After class, the documents provide valuable data for the assessment of work during class meetings and the documents are available for everyone to see, whether the student was in the classroom, remote, or absent. I link these documents off of a shared class notebook (in the form of a Google Doc) that students and I can edit throughout the semester. I keep it organized with a usable index using the “Header 1” and “Header 2” styles for all headings.

So far, I’m pleased with the results, and so I plan to continue using these techniques.

David Tames, Associate Teaching Professor, College of Arts, Media, and Design
September, 2020


Additional Resources on Feedback


Frequent Check-Ins for Connection and Learning

I’m using chats, polls and surveys to check in frequently during class on whether the students are prepared for class and how they’re doing, and to have them connect. This breaks up class, lets me gauge how things are going, and see where I need to teach more. On a typical day, I do “first chat” with a short-answer question that is sometimes just social and other times to see what needs to be reviewed. Then 15-20 minutes later, I do a poll with just three questions, some of which are submitted anonymously and some are submitted with names. Then at the end of class, I often do “last chat” with a quick question about what is still unclear, how they are feeling about the material, or similar. This has made for a very lively chat that I sometimes have to rein in! Oh, and every day I say hello to every person in the room and on Zoom by name, even if they are not on camera.

-Submitted Anonymously
November, 2020


Additional Resources on Formative Assessment

Group Work

Identifying Learners as In-Person or Remote

I ask students to rename themselves at the beginning of class and put either an IP (in-person) or R (remote) in front of their Zoom names to reflect their participation that day. This allows me to quickly organize breakout rooms on the fly from the participant list with at least 1 IP student with 1-2 R students mixed together. This allows each breakout room to have “eyes & ears” back in the classroom in case I need to give verbal instructions or show something in class. After class, I can sort my Zoom usage report by IPs and Rs to track who I have seen in class, to better learn their names.

-Submitted Anonymously
September, 2020


Breakout Rooms in Microsoft Teams

In Teams, I’ve set up channels for breakout rooms. Using Teams is quicker to transfer in and out of other breakout rooms and the chat doesn’t disappear after the breakout rooms end. I can also simply interact with students just through the general chat instead of having to enter each of their conversations.

-Submitted Anonymously
October 2020


Breakout Rooms

Before class, I sort everyone by whether I expect them to be attending in-person or remotely, and then within those categories I randomly create breakout groups. I surveyed my students, and they prefer this method to totally random assignment where groups including both in-class and remote students are trying to maintain conversations. When we go to breakout conversations, I have a slide that shows assigned breakout rooms. For those who were supposed to be in class but decided to stay home, I either put them in their own breakout channel or ask them to join one of the others (depending on how many there are).

-Submitted Anonymously
October, 2020


Online Whiteboard for Collaboration and Real-Time Activities

The use of an online whiteboard tool like Miro has been great for shared group work and real-time activities. Two examples: (1) an ideation session where multiple people were making and then categorizing ideas, and then we ranked them, and (2) an activity where we designed a user testing protocol as a group.

The reason I use Miro is that then small groups can be in breakout rooms in Zoom and still see what other people are working on in Miro. Also, Miro has better tools for shapes and post-its, and you can see everyone’s cursor in real time.

-Mark Sivak, Associate Teaching Professor, College of Arts, Media, and Design
October, 2020


Rotating Breakout Groups and Leaders

When I do group assignments, I make sure to shift the student groups each time, rotating students who are considered the “lead.” Group leaders were randomly assigned to limit unconscious (and conscious) bias in who is identified as group leader. Through these shifting breakout groups and leadership assignments, students had an opportunity to be in a group with new classmates four times over the course of the semester. By the end of the semester, in this smaller online asynchronous class of ~20 students, they had the opportunity to connect with almost all of their classmates. I assign these groups in Canvas at the start of the semester so that students can look ahead to see who they would be working with next — or for each assignment — and connect or start work early with their classmates.

-Submitted Anonymously
February, 2021


Using Folders to Organize Student Work in Breakout Rooms

During breakout sessions in Zoom, students work with folders that contain materials and collaborative documents (in Google Drive or Microsoft Office 365). The folders are created ahead of time and labeled as Breakout Room 1, Breakout Room 2, etc. The folders also contain a handout with specific instructions for what the outcome of the breakout room session should be, what students need to find a consensus on, what roles to assign to each other (e.g., secretary, timekeeper, reporter), and what they are asked to share with the class when back in the main Zoom room. While groups are working in their respective breakout room folders, they are also able to access everybody else’s documents and materials at the same time.

There are several benefits to using the folders, such as:

  1. I can now “walk around” virtually to see what students are doing live by clicking on any of the collaborative folders without having to join each of the Zoom breakout rooms.
  2. I can provide synchronous instructor feedback for each team easily – even when I am speaking with students in one breakout room, I can easily click on the folder of another group.
  3. Students can review/check/edit each other’s work in real time. If groups are done early, they are instructed to view another group’s work.
  4. Both the instructor and students can follow up after class with asynchronous feedback.
  5. The work in the folders creates an archive of breakout room work that everyone can go back to.

-Carolin Fuchs, Teaching Professor of the World Languages Center, College of Social Sciences and Humanities
February, 2021


Connecting the Class through Breakout Rooms

I have done random breakout rooms a lot, where I group students in the room with remote students. The flexibility of changing them up has helped students meet more people. We do it so much that they immediately get the headphones out and jump in. It has been great. Groups always expect to report their activity results and they have been creative about doing this on Zoom whiteboards, physical whiteboards, sharing screens, and more. They save the whiteboard from the breakout room as a PDF for later reference. I jump into the breakouts both online and by walking around the room (safely distanced). It has really connected the whole class. I can tell it is working by how they are working together quickly while accomplishing the task needed, and enjoying it too.

-Sue Freeman, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education, Office of the Dean & Teaching Professor, First Year Engineering Program
February, 2021


Additional Resources on Student Groups
Teaching Tip: Active Learning with Student Groups
Teaching Tip: Group Discussion Activity Design

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Submitting Take-Aways Through Chat

I am using a “Flash Chat” in Zoom at the end of each class, where I ask students in the last 2 minutes of class to submit a take-away or something that they “need more clarification on” as a comment in the Zoom chat box. These may be submitted, either to everyone or to me, privately.

-Submitted Anonymously
September, 2020


Additional Resources on Reflection
Self-Paced Module: Engaging Learners in Reflection
Teaching Tip: Prompts for Meaningful Reflection

Student Motivation
& Engagement

Designing for Engagement

I teach innovation and I use several techniques to keep the students engaged:

  1. I open every class by saying hello to each student as they come in from the waiting room.
  2. I start each session with a Poll Everywhere, asking a random question about how they are feeling or a quick poll about the material.
  3. I try not to lecture, rather to have a discussion about the material already posted on Canvas. I try to limit my discussion to 10-15 minutes before we do another poll or go to breakout rooms. During the discussion, I randomly call on students (I have a maximum of 40 students), asking a question or for their thoughts. I focus a lot on students who do not have their video on. We tell them they don’t have to have it on, but I find that the more I ask the non-video students questions, the more they turn on their video.
  4. I try to do a talk, a breakout room, review of breakout room work, and then repeat this. We then do an exercise in the main room and go to a final breakout room. The final breakout room remains open until they finish their work (which can be beyond the class time). I try to limit the first two breakout rooms to 5-10 minutes maximum.

Stephen Golden, Associate Teaching Professor, Entrepreneurship and Innovation
October, 2020


Tools for Engagement

I use several tools to engage students: 

  1. I use Poll Everywhere for periodic reviews using the competition poll. I usually ask 10-15 questions and the students score based on speed and accuracy. They love this.
  2. I use Microsoft Whiteboard occasionally when we are doing working sessions/ideation. 
  3. I use Flipgrid for students to do a brief introduction at the start of each semester.

Stephen Golden, Associate Teaching Professor, Entrepreneurship and Innovation
October, 2020


Journals for Taking Notes

I require my students to keep journals for every class. The journals are assignments worth 1% each for a total of 20% of their grade. The journal is for them and they keep notes from class, breakout sessions, team meetings, and research. This is very effective, but must be positioned as being for their own reference to use when they leave the class. Some students do videos for their journals. My classes are synchronous and I have found that this is a great way for students to review the material covered. It’s also a good way to gauge how much they are capturing from the material.

-Stephen Golden, Associate Teaching Professor, Entrepreneurship and Innovation
February, 2021


Participation Grades for Each Class Session

I give students an individual class participation grade after each class, rather than just one grade at the end of the semester. This allows them to see how their participation is affecting their grade in real time and if needed, they can immediately make changes in the next class. After doing this once, my later class sessions were like “night and day” with participation.

-Timothy Blank, Lecturer, College of Professional Studies
February, 2021


Varying Teaching Techniques

Vary up your teaching techniques! In every class, I switch up how my students are interacting (presentations, breakout groups, lecture, group discussions, etc.). Students tend to enjoy this and have said that class “goes by so quickly” (presumably because they’re enjoying it!).

-Timothy Blank, Lecturer, College of Professional Studies
February, 2021

Additional Resources on Student Motivation & Engagement
Self-Paced Module: Planning and Facilitating Engaging Online Discussions in Canvas
Teaching Tip: Motivating Online Students
Teaching Tip: Supporting Online Learners

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