How to Start Class with Opening Questions

776 Transcript – 

00;00;00;22 – 00;00;04;05

John Davis (Announcer)

This is the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast with your host Vicki Davis.

Sponsor Thank you Advancement Courses

00;00;04;06 – 00;00;20;11

Vicki Davis

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Introduction of Leigh Zeitz

00;00;21;04 – 00;00;38;09

Vicki Davis

Today, we’re talking with my friend Dr. Leigh Zeitz from the University of Northern Iowa. Let’s talk about some of your current research that’s going to relate to student engagement, both face to face and online. Where did you start with your questions?

00;00;38;10 – 00;01;22;29

Dr. Leigh Zeitz

Well, just like all the other questions that came around, it happened about two years ago when this pandemic came down. It was a big shock for all of us. Fortunately, I had been teaching online for about 20 years, so I knew something about what to do.

I was working with a student synchronous course in higher education. It was a class called “EdTech and Design.” When we came back, checking in was really important. The idea of connecting with the students, you know, helping build their strength and having them feel like they belonged to a group.

And so that was back in spring and during the fall, that was a rather tumultuous time as well. But what happened is I continued with that. And then about halfway through I started asking questions other than just “How are you doing?”

I started moving into things such as “What’s your hidden talent?” 

But things were actually talking and having them think about something about themselves.

He Asked a Different Question Every Day

00;01;23;00 – 00;01;27;01

Vicki Davis

So, Dr. Z, this was at the beginning of class in Zoom primarily, yes.

00;01;27;01 – 00;02;10;16

Dr. Leigh Zeitz

For the whole semester. What I would do is I had 35 students in my online class and I asked each one of them a specific question. This takes a little bit of time and I didn’t want it. I only had 50 minutes and so I didn’t want to have an overlap into all that.

So I’d actually start asking questions at 5 minutes to the hour. Now, please note I didn’t do any instruction outside of the class time. What I was doing is socializing. You don’t want to ask complex questions like, “Why did you want to become a teacher?”

I found that out one day and we didn’t get to it until ten after. But the idea is that they would share and they had the choice of not answering if they wanted to. But it was something where in many cases they were thinking about themselves in new ways.

They really got to learn a lot about themselves and about their classmates as well.

Survey Results on Engagement Using The “Opening Act” Method of Asking Questions for an Online Class

00;02;11;19 – 00;02;22;21

Vicki Davis

So we’ll share the list of questions because they’re great. That can be adapted for all ages. But when you surveyed your students at the end of the semester, did this have and it really did.

00;02;22;22 – 00;02;51;05

Dr. Leigh Zeitz

And what I was doing is this survey was actually two parts. The first part was dealing with this opening question activity and how that affected the things that they did in their classes and how they felt about things.

The second part was, why do you turn off your camera? Another important question that all teachers want to have an answer to. And on the first one, it was really interesting, because what I did is I found out that 87% of my students either appreciated it or really appreciated it.

00;02;51;08 – 00;03;02;02

Vicki Davis

Interesting. Would that tie in with Hattie’s research where he found that student teacher social interactions actually rank higher on the affect of learning than academic year?

00;03;02;03 – 00;03;09;00

Dr. Leigh Zeitz

Actually, one of the things that we were looking at, I’ll get back to those results in a minute. Well, one of the things that we were looking at, are you familiar with the communities of inquiry?

00;03;10;01 – 00;03;10;22

Vicki Davis

Tell me about them.

00;03;10;24 – 00;04;43;10

Dr. Leigh Zeitz

The communities of inquiry is a model that has been used with online learning. It talks about three different presences. It talks about a teaching presence. It talks about a content presence. And it talks about a social presence. And I think it’s really important for us to take a look at those.

Editor’s Note: See the COI Framework for PDF’s, definitions of each presence and an overview of the model.

When we take a look at teaching, the teaching presence is that the student feels that the teacher is leading them through. It’s constructed in such a way that they can actually feel that they’re accumulating and using new knowledge and skills.

The point is, this relevant information is something that I really need to use as relevant to what I’m doing and how am I going to be able to use it. 

Most importantly, though, is the social presence. And the social presence has to do with the teacher-student connection and a student connection. And so what we were doing here is I was able to build the connection with my students. And as I was saying that 87% of them appreciate it.

Then, 88% of them said it connected them to me. They felt closer to me because of this process. We had 75% of them that said that they felt closer to their classmates and which is something in many cases when you have an online class, if you think about it, online means that you’re sitting in an empty room all by yourself and you’re talking to people and you don’t really get much socializing done. Seventy-nine percent (79%) of them said that it increased their feeling of readiness for learning. And my favorite one was that 61% of them said they made the class more important and they had a greater interest in wanting to do well.

Sixty-one percent (61%) of them said that! I mean, think about that. That’s exactly what a teacher wants to hear. As an add-on, forty-four percent (44%) of them said it was the reason they kept their cameras turned on.

Clarification on those who didn’t say it was something they liked?

00;04;44;10 – 00;04;54;11

Vicki Davis

So it actually improved that. I’m interested to know if you said 87% thought it was something that they really like. I wonder if the 13% that didn’t like it were super vocal.

00;04;55;12 – 00;04;56;21

Dr. Leigh Zeitz

Super vocal. What do you mean by that?

00;04;57;18 – 00;05;23;11

Vicki Davis

You know, sometimes we always say the “squeaky wheel gets the grease”. But very often when I’ve done social-type things, I will just have one or two students who just say, “oh, that doesn’t help me at all.”

But they’re very vocal about it. Like they tell a lot of people, they’re extremely opinionated that, Oh, it doesn’t belong in an academic classroom. And I think a lot of teachers steer away from this sort of thing because they’re afraid of the vocal few instead of the impact that it does have on most students in the classroom.

00;05;23;11 – 00;05;41;14

Dr. Leigh Zeitz

Oh, they were not complaining. I just realized that have 13% there. And I didn’t look to see how many of them were neutral. So we could have 12% that are neutral or one person that didn’t like it or something.

You see what I’m saying? When you’re talking about 30 people, you know, the percentage is what is it? It’s like three percentage points per person.

The Results of This Technique in the Face to Face Classroom

00;05;43;08 – 00;05;44;09

Vicki Davis

So what happened the next time?

00;05;44;11 – 00;07;17;27

Dr. Leigh Zeitz

I spent a whole year teaching online and, you know, I got relatively good at it and it felt comfortable. And then I went back in the fall of this last year, and I started teaching three classes face to face.

And I kept thinking that this “asking a question” is fantastic. How do I do this face to face? And I you know, one person said, well, haven’t put up a question. I thought to have them write the answers on a whiteboard. Well, that didn’t work.

So what I decided to do was we had the students sit in groups of three or four, and an important thing is for them to connect with each other. And so what I would do 10 minutes before the class started, I put up a question and it might be a question like, you know, “if you had a superpower, what would it be?” 

And I asked them to challenge them to talk with each other about that. And so they could get to know each other and make that connection at 10 minutes to the hour, I put up that question. And 5 minutes to the hour, I walk around and talk to each and every student, which they don’t see a lot at the university level. I mean, it happens, but I’m just saying that often you just go in there, be as quiet as you can so you don’t bother anybody.

But what happens is we end up with a very congenial group and we know we care about each other. And I can’t believe the things I’ve learned about, you know, when I asked, “what’s your hidden talent?” Got lots of artists that are in my group and a couple of people who could touch their head with a toe!

But a lot of interesting people, but that has been working very well. I did another survey on that back in December at the end of that semester, and I really haven’t looked at the materials yet. I’ll be doing that this summer.

And then this semester I’m teaching one class online in two classes face to face, and I’ll be doing the same survey. I think that’ll be quite interesting with what the results are.

Why Do Students Turn Off Their Zoom (Webcam) Camera?

00;07;20;19 – 00;07;29;06

Vicki Davis

Okay. So there was a second part to that question. Why do you turn off your Zoom camera? Isn’t that the $10 million question? What did you find?

00;07;29;11 – 00;08;23;18

Dr. Leigh Zeitz

You know, it really is. And, you know, one of the things that I got frustrated with because when I got into teaching, it’s because I wanted to talk to people and I wanted to see people and I wanted to see, you know, see their expressions.

That’s why I teach synchronously. And one time, actually. 

Before I get into that, I didn’t have it too bad. I probably had about a third of the students had their cameras on. One time when I was going through, I was using a Google slide to share and I had this one page, which was 25 pictures of me, you know, as though if everybody had turned off their cameras and they were all me, that’s what it would look like. I said, take a look at this. This is what I don’t want to see.

And I explained to, you know, try to help build some empathy and realize this is why I’m and I know it’s been tough for you. It’s been tough for me, too. And so I really ended up with a lot of people coming back because they knew I cared about that connection.

So what I did is I asked him some questions. I asked him a question. I actually gave him about 14 different options plus anything else they’d like to add. 

The Top Reason for Turning Off Cameras in Zoom

Guess what the number one reason was for them to turn off their cameras?

00;08;23;29 – 00;08;24;26

Vicki Davis

What is that?

00;08;25;20 – 00;08;27;26

Dr. Leigh Zeitz

Because they were self-conscious about their appearance.

00;08;27;28 – 00;08;32;14

Vicki Davis

Which is the reason you and I are not recording a video podcast today, at least on my end.

00;08;33;22 – 00;08;38;17

Dr. Leigh Zeitz

Right. Right. We did. We decided things weren’t so good, so we decided not to make this video.

00;08;38;18 – 00;08;51;24

Vicki Davis

We did. Isn’t that the truth? I mean, in this world where everybody’s used to adding the filters to make themselves look this way or that way, an unfiltered video camera just isn’t what they’re willing to do. Huh?

00;08;52;24 – 00;10;01;23

Dr. Leigh Zeitz

I actually broke it down into five different groups:

  • They were self-conscious. 
  • They had another activity. 
  • They had technology issues.
  • It was a privacy issue or the status quo.
  • Number two, which was 39%, was that they were eating.

That’s why they turned off the camera. And then we had some others that were there. Only 30% of them said it was technical problems. Interestingly enough, 30% of them also said that they felt that everybody else had their cameras off.

Now, that wasn’t true in my class, but it was something they apparently felt there was more self-conscious. They didn’t want them to see the people behind them. Interestingly enough, when it comes to it, I don’t want them to see that I’m doing other things.

Only 13% of them actually admitted that. But you and I both know that many times when we’ve been in meetings and things like that that weren’t very interactive, that would be something we would do. And as far as that interactivity goes, I think something that’s very important as to why they turn off their cameras is how much interactivity there is between the students and the teacher. Because, you know, if all you’re going to do is lecture at the I don’t need to sit there. I mean, I can clean up my office while we’re doing this.

If you’re going to be talking to me and you’re going to be making comments, I mean, you’ve already found out what my favorite superpower would be. I mean, that’s the way you make the connections and that’s how you keep the cameras on.

Why Lecture in Zoom? Why Not Make a Video?

00;10;01;24 – 00;10;06;28

Vicki Davis

I guess the thing that has always confused me about lecturing and Zoom is that if you’re going to lecture in Zoom, why not just make a video?

00;10;06;29 –  00;10;33;12

Dr. Leigh Zeitz

Good point. But the thing is, if you take a look at the transition we had with the pandemic, people had seven days to figure out what to do. And, you know, they already had a plan that they were going to be lecturing and that sort of thing and making a lot of teachers, a lot of professors really made huge changes. And it really made us be introspective about the way we teach. I must admit, I’m so sorry the pandemic happened, but you kicked everybody in the button. We jumped up another ten, 15 years from where we were.

00;10;33;23 – 00;10;50;26

Vicki Davis

You know, for those who did it well, yes! I think for those who perhaps didn’t do it well, they’re like, “oh, no, we need to go back to the way it was,” but perhaps maybe they didn’t do it well.

What Do We Call This Method? Opening Question Activity? Opening Act?

Vicki: So this is interesting. So there’s one big takeaway, and that is this opening question of sorts. Icebreaker, what do you call it?

00;10;50;27 – 00;11;02;13

Dr. Leigh Zeitz

I don’t see it as an opening. I call it an opening question activity. I know that’s not very imaginative. Yeah, I could. It could be our opening.

00;11;02;16 – 00;11;21;28

Vicki Davis

You could even call it an opening act, couldn’t you? Yeah. Yeah, because it kind of fits well. I found this very fascinating, and it makes a lot of sense in terms of getting conversation happening, building your classroom culture, and also letting students know that you value them as a person.

What Mistake Should You Avoid With the Opening Question Activity?

00;11;21;29 – 00;11;36;05

Vicki Davis

Now, let me ask you one last question. Is there a mistake that you made with opening act besides asking, you know, “why did you become a teacher?” But are there any other mistakes that teachers need to watch out for as they use this technique?

  • Answering Should Be Optional

00;11;36;06 – 00;12;01;06

Dr. Leigh Zeitz

Well, number one, you can’t force them to answer. If they don’t want to answer, they just don’t have an idea. That’s okay. 

  • Don’t Ask Long Questions

Number two is don’t ask long questions. 

And number three, don’t get real personal about it. But now I asked them about their hidden talent, interestingly enough.

And one of my classes, about 30% of them, said that their hidden talent is sleeping. So, you know, they don’t do it during class. But, you know, when you’re a college student, you don’t always get a lot of sleep.

So it’s good that they know how to do that.

00;12;01;08 –  00;12;56;29

Vicki Davis

We will share what Dr. Z reflects in his blog and the information on this research. I love this idea of opening act. I also think that the Zoom information, it is insightful, it is insightful. But the point about interactivity when you’re teaching online, I think it is vital that we want our classes to be interactive and we don’t want it to be just lectures, particularly when we’re just online. So thank you. Dr. Z.

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00;12;57;07 – 00;13;09;02

John Davis (Announcer)

You’ve been listening to the Ten Minute Teacher podcast. If you like this program, you can find more and If you wish to see more content by Vicki Davis, you can find her on Facebook and Twitter under @coolcatteacher. Thank you for listening.