3 tips from international academia to improve big-group conversations

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Group chats that are both productive and fun—is that just a dream? ☁️ Actually, no. Studies from international higher learning institutions show us that better large-group conversations are possible.

Video conferences have been used for years in academia to connect far-flung learners. Here are three research-backed tips to make them better and more interesting, based on the real experiences of educators and students.

plan around time zones thoughtfully

The University of Wollongong (say that three times fast) in Australia 🇦🇺 relies on video conferences to link Australian students with those in the US 🇺🇸 and Ireland 🇮🇪. It found that setting meetings across two time zones works better than trying to include all three locations at once.

Why? 🤔

When all three schools are scheduled to meet at the same time, it means very early meetings for some students and very late ones for others. In this case, the easiest solution—booking two-way calls instead of three-way calls—was the best one. Meeting at more convenient times made for better conversations and higher student satisfaction, even though it resulted in more meetings overall.

The lesson: Smaller meetings beat big groups. Two-way group chats are easier to attend and allow more attendees to speak up. Win-win! 🏅🏅

moderate firmly

Leading discussions among international students requires some finesse. Cultural differences abound. Grading rubrics differ. Instructor expectations vary. The best way to head off conflict, educators report, is for moderators to take charge.

Tutors need skills in facilitating discussions, controlling dominant personalities, and equalizing student participation, according to the researchers. Keeping the audience engaged is the biggest piece of the puzzle. The key here is live video conferencing, which allows everyone to participate.

Getting people on a call is just the first step, though. Moderators must work to make everyone feel included. They can do so by stepping in to frame 🖼 the conversation and asking smart questions.

The lesson: Be mindful that not all participants have the same appetite for speaking up. Aim to guide conversations with thoughtful questions.

create structure and “markers”

Just as important as encouraging participation is providing structure. When conversations have an agenda that’s communicated clearly, the overall experience improves massively.

An Australian study of pharmacy education shows the power of structure. In tutorial videos demonstrating pharmacy techniques, tutors and students benefited from marker points that indicated where “lessons” began and ended. In other words, the part of the video conference that was most critical was clearly indicated at start and finish so their conversations stayed on track, and tutors were able to devote more time to instruction.

Interaction can happen in a structured manner, too. In a South African study 🇿🇦 of video conferencing, distance learners reported having fewer opportunities to participate than in-person learners—except when interaction was deliberately planned.

In other words? Breakout rooms, small-group discussions, or round-robin 🐦 conversations don’t have to feel like a chore. Structured interactions like these are actually better for encouraging communication. And they empower more people to raise their virtual hands.🤚

The lesson: Structure your chats, especially for person-to-person conversation. Switching from big-group discussion to small-group chats makes everyone’s experience more enjoyable.

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