Our faculty learning community discusses teaching and learning on the open web, and we frequently share with each other apps that facilitate learning. I’m a fan of Google docs, and I structure my classes so that students and I share collaborative documents.
We frequently brainstorm in the Google Suite. In a classroom-based undergraduate research experience, students share their hypotheses with each other in a Google Sheet. We analyze papers from the primary literature in Google Docs, recording our criteria for writing scientific papers by reading scientific papers. So, when my colleague Sarita Shukla began using Padlet in her classes, I couldn’t see the value in adding yet another app for my students to use. Couldn’t they just brainstorm in Google Docs? I have to admit I like the stripped-down simplicity of a single document.
And here I am, two years later, raving about Padlet. I direct an instructor training program, and I’m now encouraging my mentees to use Padlet, and I’ve seen them use it successfully in their courses. Their undergraduate students are enthusiastic about it. I’m encouraging other colleagues to use it. What changed?
While my interest in Padlet began to grow a few months ago, it took off dramatically when the University of Washington decided that all spring 2020 courses would be online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was helping two teams of postdocs prepare undergraduate seminars, and the postdocs were there to refine their use of active learning techniques. We decided to hold synchronous Zoom meetings, but to record classes for students who would attend asynchronously. I champion “think-pair-share” in my in-person classes, but making breakout rooms in Zoom is cumbersome for brief check-ins. We decided to substitute padlets for think-pair-shares. It works so nicely!
Padlets involve all of the students—so it’s a great inclusive exercise that involves everyone. We can ask a question that would generate a think-pair-share, e.g., “what are some of the strategies you’re using in your rapid switch to online teaching?”, and we see an array of answers immediately. The fact that notes are arranged in a grid makes it quite easy for the instructor to survey the answers and read the room. I have a much better sense of what the audience is thinking than I do when I move among breakout rooms in Zoom. We’ve begun to use Padlets for small group work, in which each group has a different question to answer. There’s a form that allows you to post a question at the top of each column, and then each group can write out their answer in a space below. Again, the instructor can quickly assess how each group understands the material. We’ve also found that padlets are a great way to ask for muddiest points at the end of class. One thing to keep in mind—I always make it clear that students are welcome to use aliases to protect their privacy.