I don’t think quiet classes are an unusual problem to have, especially in university settings in Japan. There are usually ways and means to encourage students to interact and communicate in their English Communication courses when we’re face to face.
The problem comes when you are using web conferencing software to teach and are expecting/expected to get some kind of student interaction occurring. I’m not talking about cameras being turned off, here; that’s a different issue, and I kind of understand the reason behind it (the same thinking behind why you wouldn’t invite guests round if your home was unseemly to you). I’m talking about an unwillingness to communicate.
It’s not every student, but a sizeable number of them. They claim to be talking in their breakout groups after the fact, but when they notice I have joined the group, silence falls. Even when I tell them, “I can’t grade you on silence!” nothing much occurs rather than a muttering.
What can I do? I can either grade everyone at an F, which is unpleasant for everyone, or I can do something else. I need some assessment proxies, to show that students have been communicating in English with one another, just not in my presence. Here are some of them:
Record your group discussion task
This was unpopular but not terrible. It also gave me solid evidence (as opposed to disputable, unrecorded performance) about how little or how much students spoke in a task.
I don’t like it, to be frank, because there is less spoken interaction than I would like, and lots of writing, which is beyond the remit of the spoken communication lesson. With a quiet class there tends to be less coming to a consensus involved in group decision making and more devolving decisions to the strongest or keenest student in the group.
Other things that I could do are:
Make a video together
But this is essentially the same as ‘record your task’ but with more room for IT faff and unlikely to result in more English output.
Somebody’s going to say Flipgrid
Why would I ask students to install something on their phone when they can upload work to the LMS or the institutional cloud storage?
Record and transcribe discussion
This could work, but it is a lot of work if the discussion is long. It is also more to mark. However, it does allow for consciousness-raising of students’ own utterances. I have used student task transcription previously with my RPG course.
Produce a podcast or video, ideally for an authentic audience
This is unlikely to be a favourite task, to be honest. Additionally, if it is taken up with no enthusiasm, no authentic audience would want to listen to it, although individual work was done generally well when giving presentations about their favourite architecture.
So, these are some of my assessment proxies (or possible proxies) for interaction while synchronously using voice/video over internet. What are you doing with your quiet classes? Feel free to donate your ideas to me and my three readers!