Theory Chapter Tetris and Other Ruminations of ‘Teaching’ Online

In a previous post, I talked about how I was embarking on a new career trajectory that involved teaching writing and project management skills online via videoconference, and that I was thinking intensely about how to involve active learning principles in this teaching.

I have to say, it’s been a real challenge. I’ve done my best to leverage the capabilities of Zoom.us, the free videoconference platform that I use. Zoom allows screen sharing as well as on-screen annotation by both parties. I’ve done some collaborative outlining and collaborative editing with clients to teach those crucial skills. But at some level, it seems like not enough.

My most recent innovation was ‘Theory Chapter Tetris.’ A client had a theory chapter that she described as “a hot mess,” and I would largely concur. She wanted to keep as much of what she already had written as possible, though. To me, that sounds like a game of Tetris: take a bunch of misshapen pieces of various sizes and fit them together into solid chunks without a lot of gaps or extra bits sticking out. So I turned her sections into pieces and we manipulated them into a series of chapter outline options.

What I did was put each of the headings of her chapter onto a PowerPoint slide, with the font sized and colored by the heading level. We then shared her screen view and used the slide sorter view to drag and drop the slides into different orders corresponding to different possible organizations (and emphases) of the chapter. She took a screen shot of each finished outline to consult later as she decided between them. (Per her request, I’m not posting any images of the slides or outlines.) The final version of the chapter ended up being a blend of a couple different outlines, but it fit together tightly and with a minimum of cutting on her part.

This may not be an active learning strategy with a lot of direct classroom applications, but it may be helpful for those who advise senior or masters’ theses or dissertations, or for those struggling with some writing of their own. The point is that many possible outlines can come from the same material, with different emphases or foci. Showing how this is possible and playing with the parts of your own chapter brings the message home nicely.

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