Using Socratic Seminar in a Hybrid Environment

Home office

Recent times have forced the landscape of our classrooms to evolve. The question I often ask myself is, "Will we ever go back?" I don't know the answer to that question. What I do know is that it is imperative that we adjust highly effective instructional strategies to engage students in hybrid environments to prepare for whatever the future holds for education.

When I started to think about instructional strategies that could be most easily modified for this type of environment, Socratic Seminar was the first one that came to mind. Socratic Seminar provides a structure for students to discuss a question posed by a classmate or teacher (usually dependent on a text). Often during Socratic Seminar there are two groups: an inner circle and an outer circle. Both inner and outer circles have roles during the Socratic Seminar (also know as a fishbowl).

In a hybrid environment, the inner circle could be the face-to-face students while the outer circle could be the remote students. Traditionally, the job of the outer circle is to be the observers and summarizers of the discussion of the inner circle. However, engagement in this role might be challenging for remote students. In addition to being an observer and summarizer, a suggestion would be that the outer circle continues to pose deeper questions throughout the discussion and shares their own thoughts through a backchannel chat, using a tool such as YoTeach or the Q and A feature of Google Slides.

Don’t be afraid to switch these roles! If your remote learners are lacking engagement, allow them to be the inner circle and project the video-call for the face-to-face students to observe in class. Face-to-face students can also pose questions for deeper conversations through the tools listed above.

A few things to take into consideration would be:

  • Have the face-to-face inner circle seated in a horseshoe, as opposed to a circle, so that students viewing from home are able to see and hear the face-to-face students.
  • Questions being posed in class should be re-voiced loudly and clearly, while also being recorded in the chat feature of a video call, on Google Slides, or a table in a Google Doc (see examples). Both circles should have equal access to the classroom discussion.
  • Also, to keep remote students engaged, assigning a face-to-face student (or even the teacher) with the task of interacting with the outer circle and sharing to the inner circle will help all students feel heard.
  • Projecting the outer circle backchannel discussion to a classroom screen will support the interaction of the two circles, as well.
  • ​Take the experience to the next level with an OWL or a SWIVL. These devices can help facilitate a better viewing experience.