The Check In

Initially conceived as a way to monitor attendance (a requirement for Change Makers and Imperial Horizons modules) and to some extent welfare (students not completing the Check In could be followed up and offered support for any difficulty they might be experiencing), the Check In has been a hugely successful part of our new learning design.

Across all our modules, we have a standard ‘rolling 24 hour class’ design. Students have access to a briefing video, and then must complete a Check In activity (within the 24 hour rolling class), a class activity (by the following week) and (hopefully) a reflective activity (within a fortnight).

Students can attend the live class via Zoom and Basecamp, message their teacher or online chat in Basecamp or join a Mix and Match video drop in within the 24 hours, and then two further Mix and Match drop in sessions within the learning week.

But it is the Check In activity that is really important to us as teachers with regards to monitoring student engagement and welfare. The class activity is obviously our focus with regards to learning and progress within the module – but that is not all that classes are about, is it? And we were very concerned about those other missing bits that might become invisible on Zoom.

First off, we have the mere fact of whether the student has completed the Check In question on time or not. And then we have the quality of what they have written – we can tell a lot by the way a student writes their answer – and you very quickly get used to the sorts of answers that each student writes, and can spot changes pretty easily. Not failsafe or failproof, but a useful indicator for us all the same.

So how does the Check In question really work?

Well, we were very wary of creating ‘extra’ work for students, so we conceived the Check In as something that could be completed as quickly as signing your name on a paper register, but could also be thought about and responded to more fully.

The Check In question is always directly related to the work that the students are doing, and is designed to provide a useful prompt for reflection.

When students answer the question, their answer is public to their whole class, and they can read the answers of all the other students too. We’ve been very clear that this is non-assessed, and that students may find they want to write the same thing as another student – and in this case, we’ve encouraged them to acknowledge the student that said it first in their response (e.g. ‘As David said, I think it is really important that we review our feedback carefully…).

As teachers we have found the Check In question to have immense value in terms of the student’s learning – both in a reflective capacity and in a preparatory capacity. Some questions ask students to reflect on something they have just done, and some ask them to consider what is about to happen next.

And both the questions and the responses have also been immensely useful to us as teachers.

Sometimes when we are struggling to encourage students to commit to a useful learning practice (like reviewing another team’s public feedback – in some modules students get both public and private feedback – and they are encouraged to review all the public feedback to increase their learning power) – we can use the question to direct students to complete the practice:

What have you learned from the feedback of another team that you will use in your next assignment?

And without batting an eyelid, all the students read the feedback of other teams and wrote really thoughtful responses about what they would do differently based on what they had read – because they needed it for their response. So in this instance, the question does some of the heavy lifting for the teacher.

In other cases, the responses themselves are really valuable. Our first year students sign up to one of three workshops – and we often wonder whether the workshops deliver what the students are expecting. So this year, in the week prior to the workshops, we asked the students:

What are you hoping to learn in your workshop next week?

This gave us an opportunity to interact and respond to prepare the students for the actual content of the workshops, successfully managing their expectations. We were also able to spot that a number of students had signed up to the wrong workshop, and we were able to redirect them before the workshops started.

Equally, we have been able to ask questions relating to online learning – such as:

What are the advantages and disadvantages to learning with us online?

And then the following week, we were able to actively address some of those disadvantages. One of the main disadvantages was the difficulty in having one on one conversations. So we prepared a pairs activity, and divided our hundreds of students into Zoom rooms in pairs (yes that was a LOT of rooms) so that they could have one on one conversations while they worked.

For the students, we hope that the Check In is a low-risk way to engage. The answers are not judged or marked, but they are visible to all the other students in the module. It’s clear that some students read and consider all the previous responses before adding their own – and you do see a development of thinking emerge from the first student response to the last. Sometimes students re-join the conversation and post a further response when they see what other students are adding. And all students can comment and ‘boost’ each other’s responses with a range of emoji. Finally, the teacher can ‘boost’ and respond publicly to the response, or send a private ping to follow up on something further.

In this way, the Check In has provided quite a lot of low-impact, low-risk, low-effort interactivity (for the students, it’s quite a lot of effort for us as teachers, but that isn’t the point). Students can feel part of a larger whole, can contribute and can ‘see’ their place in the class. Especially for the students that are not able to join the live sessions, this little tool provides a moment of connection.

And across all our students in all our modules completing this weekly activity, we have only had one response that was not generous, communicative and collaborative. And even that response wasn’t that bad – it was just slightly sarcastic and bored of us. Fair enough.

So the Check In question has proved immensely useful, and whether we continue learning online or in the real world, the Check In is definitely a keeper.

Interested to know more?

Find out more about Change Makers online with the following posts:

The Virtual Classroom – come on a tour of our virtual classroom

Inclusivity and Hospitality – how are we welcoming students to our virtual classroom and addressing inclusivity online

The Rolling 24 Hour Class – how have we adapted the concept of the class to engage students in every time zone

Change Makers (More Than A) Handbook – creating a handbook that is accessible and encourages students to read more about their learning

Does Working Online Have Any Advantages? – what have students been telling us about the benefits of working online

Breaking Down the Barriers to Online Engagement – what challenges have emerged and how have we tackled them so far

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