Three years ago, one of the big drawcards of the sparkling, new UTS Central building (Building 2) was the impressive large collaborative classrooms on levels 5-7. With modes of teaching delivery evolving to encompass remote and hybrid teaching, how can these spaces now be used for collaborative learning in a COVID-safe way?

We’re revisiting 2019’s Festival of Learning Design, which inspired what was to be a new series on collaborative classrooms, starting with a blog by Jo McKenzie that showed how these classrooms are a great environment to test our assumptions by collaborating with others. In this new three-part follow-up series, we’re rethinking some of the activities that were suggested so they can be used in a hybrid learning environment.

Watch: reflections on using the collaborative classroom space

In this video, Bem le Hunte reflects on how groups from diverse disciplines get together to discuss changes they’d like to make in the world in one of these large collaborative classrooms.

Discover: hybrid ideas for collaborative activities

Collaborative learning emerges from equal partnerships and allows participants to find commonalities across their experiences. Different perspectives from other disciplines are also valuable to finding correlations and connections between a range of sources and to distill disparate interests into abstract categories. Below, we present some activities that ensure collaborative learning can involve all students regardless of whether they are in the classroom or joining remotely.

Pre-COVID face-to-face ActivitiesCOVID-safe hybrid ideas
Icebreaker: Select a personally meaningful photo from your phone to share with a partner and discuss the abstract connections between the two imagesIcebreaker: Share images via Canvas Inbox message or Zoom screen share if image reuse is a concern. Abstract connections can be presented either in text or speech across a physically distanced table.
Collaborating in groups: Identify a passion on a post-it note, sticking it to a wall in the classroom and grouping these notes together into like-minded passions.Collaborating in groups: Use Jamboard, Miro, or Microsoft Whiteboard as a virtual whiteboard to post digital post-it notes. The notes can be digitally organised and sorted out into categories.
Bracketology exercises: Topics are placed on one side of a paper, then two or three of those topics are summarised into an abstract idea. Those abstract ideas are then summarised into an overarching abstract idea.Bracketology exercises: Use one of the virtual whiteboard tools for the bracketology task. You can also share via the digital workstations – clean the workstation after each person has presented their Brackets.
Catalytic questioning: Articulate intriguing research questions around one topic to allow for deep conversations across disciplines.Catalytic questioning: Questioning can come from the room via a projected Jamboard or via the main presenter also reading from Jamboard.

In addition, it’s worth taking a look at how U:PASS leaders successfully ran mixed-mode versions of their usual face-to-face activities.

Safety in numbers

Before you plan your class, make sure you keep up-to-date with the latest COVID-19 advice to determine how many students are safe to have in class at one time.

With the right support, it’s also relatively easy to broadcast and interact across multiple collaborative classrooms. This is another way to ensure you and your students are able to collaborate in a COVID-safe way. While the spaces weren’t originally designed for this, you could try an experimental approach with students to explore new ways of collaborating.

Get in touch with the LX.lab if you have any questions related to this or about how you can use digital technologies to make large collaborative classrooms COVID-safe. If you have any activities or ideas you’d like to add, please comment below.

Join the discussion