Monday, October 11, 2021

The ENTER key is LAVA!: a Massively Multiplayer Participation Technique

Enter Key is Lava
Enter Key is Lava
Dr. Doug Shaw Shares:

Hello. Don’t you hate it when you look up a recipe online and you have to wade through paragraphs of introductory text about someone’s grandmother before you get to the ingredient list? I’m going to share an amazing technique with you, and then if you like, you can stick around and read why it is so awesome.

Technique name: The ENTER key is LAVA

This technique enables students in an online synchronous class to share their opinions on a prompt or their answers to a question and to then engage with each other’s thoughts.

Time:  About 8 minutes, but this will vary.


Step one: Tell the students, “I’m going to ask you a question. Please type your answer in the chat window, but do NOT hit ENTER! The ENTER key is LAVA! Just type your answer in the window.”

Step two: Ask your question. Type your question in the chat room as well in case they didn't hear it. Follow by typing, “You have [x] minutes. Remember: The ENTER key is LAVA!” I’ve found that two minutes usually works for me and my students, but it really depends on your topic and your class.

Step three: While the students are working, I like to play some low-volume music in through zoom. You can do this by clicking “share screen”, the “advanced” tab, then select the box at the bottom of the window that says “share computer audio.” Now cue music on your favorite music player. (I’ll tell you why at the end)

Step four: After the time has elapsed, stop the music, and say, “Okay, we hit ENTER on three! One! Two! Three! PUNCH IT!” Observe the huge stream of comments.

Step five: Explain to the students that their next task is to read all the comments, find one that resonates with them, and type a response in the chat window. But DON'T HIT ENTER. As they do this, cue music and type the instructions in the chat: “You have [y] minutes. Read, respond, and the ENTER key is LAVA again!” The amount of time you give them will depend on how many people are in the class.

Steps six and seven: Again, stop the music, “One! Two! Three!” and their final task is to take [z] minutes to read these new comments.


Equity: The problem with the Zoom Chat window is that it is modeled after our familiar texting apps. This means that the place where you type is right below the place where you read responses. For thoughtful students, this means that they see other students have “finished” with a question before they’ve had a chance to really think it through. And for easily distracted students (and Zoom has made many people, including me, easily distracted) it becomes difficult to focus on their own answer as they see others’ answers cascading in their field of vision. Both of these issues are even worse for neurodiverse students. “The ENTER key is LAVA” technique removes those problems. Every student gets the same [x] minutes to write, the same [y] minutes to read and respond, and the same [z] minutes to read.

Encouraging contributions: By designating time for students to read as well as write, “The ENTER key is LAVA” technique demonstrates that both activities are equally important. This message is also reinforced by the music cues – they get music when they are writing, reading, and responding, implicitly signaling that these three actions are all part of the same process. If we want our students to consistently contribute in classes, it is important to make it obvious that their participation is valued.

Generality: Because this technique works for a variety of types of prompts, after students go through it once, you will be able to use it effortlessly throughout the semester. It will go from a novelty to “this is how our class works.” You will be able to get large amounts of participation and engagement with little work. You will even be able to use it spontaneously, based on what is happening in your class at the moment!

This technique was adapted from a workshop by Aneta Key from the Applied Improvisation Network.

Dr. Doug Shaw is a Guest Blogger. He is a Math Professor at the University of Northern Iowa. He originated the OK Zoomer online workshops in August 2020.