Saturday, August 1, 2020

Online real time student project team formation with Zoom and Slack

A flat floor large classroom at ANU, with large mobile LCD screens used to relay presentation to the back of the room.
ANU TechLauncher,
Team Formation Exercise, 2018

In previous years the ANU TechLauncher computer project team formation exercise was face to face in a large flat floor classroom for two hours with several hundred students. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, this semester the room was replaced with a Zoom video-conference, Slack text chat and web documents. The organizer gave an introduction on Zoom, after which each client pitched their project. Students could ask questions verbally via Zoom, or by text in Slack. Each student then selected a project and discussed the project with the client in the Slack channel for the project. They could also look up the video conference for that project in a web document. The Zoom conference remained open during this process for queries.

When a project had sufficient students, the newly formed teach would appoint two spokespersons who would register the team on a Slack channel. Those students were then free to leave. Instructors visited the forums answering questions. All unallocated students and clients then returned to Zoom for another round of pitches. The event ended when all students were allocated to a project (not all projects were successful in getting students).

This process was a reasonably direct translation from the face to face one used in previous years. Posters for projects had been placed on walls, with the client for each next to their poster pitching. Students would speak to the client and put their details on a post it note on the project poster.

One feature of Slack which might make the online process easier is the provision of video conferences in channels. This would allow students to click a link and open a video conference in Slack, rather than having to go to a web document to find the relevant conference.

However, slack and Zoom text chat have the limitation that information scrolls off the screen quickly. There was a need to keep posting some of the same information every ten minutes or so, as it was too difficult for participants to scroll back to find it (this also happened with the ACS Hackerthons using Zoom and Slack). One way around this would be to have a separate channel for very important information, or use a live web document.

Some form of status board might also be useful, with a traffic light indicator to show the progress of each project in obtaining a team.

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