March 15, 2021

How to Leverage Visual Collaboration in the Classroom

Sasha Rappaport

Sasha is the Transformation Manager for Education and Non-profits at MURAL. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two boys and works as a community organizer when he isn't outside hanging with the fam. Find him @sasharappaport on Twitter.

The past year has been incredibly turbulent for educators who found themselves suddenly thrust into the world of remote learning. I have seen how challenging it is trying to engage students remotely and how impossible it can feel to make meaningful connections with the stresses of the pandemic on top of only seeing people through screens. For me, I became a remote worker learning a new job, an unexpected part time kindergarten teacher, and husband to a college professor trying to adapt her pedagogy to all Zoom, all the time. As the Transformation Manager for Education at MURAL, I have had conversations with dozens and dozens of educators struggling to find ways to facilitate meaningful engagement and ensure that learning is taking place in virtual spaces where we are lucky if we can even see each other’s faces.

This has given me unique insight on the potential impacts technology can have on the classroom environment. I believe MURAL is the platform for teachers and students to facilitate deeper learning in the modern classroom, one that is in-person, remote, or a hybrid of both; much like the modern workplace. We offer educators and students the opportunity to use MURAL at absolutely no cost and provide tools and training to help educators adapt their pedagogy and make the transition to teaching with MURAL as easy as possible. Over 4,000 schools & universities across the world are already using MURAL in their classrooms.

“Honestly, MURAL has completely changed what I thought was possible in remote learning.” – Christopher Durr, PhD, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Amherst College

At MURAL, we believe that we are all imagination workers — people who thrive on collaborating with others from different backgrounds and disciplines to solve problems together. Our human-centered approach comes from our history in design thinking; we’re constantly prototyping and iterating to come up with innovative features, services, and better ways of working. Our platform is designed to unlock creativity, to allow individuals and groups to produce meaningful work through critical thinking, attacking complexity, challenging assumptions, and embracing curiosity. I am excited to help lead the team at MURAL working to bring our values to lecture halls, labs, dorm rooms, and all spaces where learning takes place at institutions of higher education.

MURAL in the classroom

MURAL enables educators to create a visually rich collaborative environment and cultivate a more engaging classroom by bringing students into lessons and allowing them to interact directly with both the material and each other. MURAL’s Superpowers are being used to facilitate lectures, research, workshops, projects, brainstorms, critiques, curriculum development, and much more. Students are using MURAL to take more dynamic notes, create mind-maps, collaborate on projects, share their work, and express their creativity in new and fun ways. Everything can be coordinated both synchronously and asynchronously, ensuring all students can be connected to and participate in the full curriculum.

“Moving online has been rough, but MURAL is bringing back some of the interaction that I use in class. It’s been a huge relief to feel like I can be a teacher rather than just a maker of videos for exercises.” –  Bill D Ward, MFA, Professor, Art Institute of Dallas

Creating a collaborative environment

I love using MURAL to collaborate visually together with my team. Everyday I hear inspiring stories of how MURAL brings people together to effectively and creatively work on projects, run through exercises, do research, and solve problems. We at MURAL also understand that there are challenges to creating the right environment for open collaboration to thrive. I recently spoke with a biology professor who was really struggling with getting any sort of interactions from students during online classes. It seemed impossible to get people to ask or answer any questions through Zoom. Then she started incorporating fun little interactive activities at the beginning of each lecture using MURAL. It opened people up and brought them closer together, and soon students were responding to the professor, the material, and each other.

Idea Flare is just one example of the ways to bring students together for a short activity to help them become engaged early on in a class. Begin by inviting everyone into the MURAL and Summon them to the Idea Flare activity. Ask everyone to add their name to a sticky note on the left side and then read aloud the instructions. Set the timer for two minutes and begin the activity. Students will participate and their ideas immediately become visible on the canvas. Afterward, you can give a minute for everyone to read over the results and then run a Voting session to see what ideas stood out to the class. The Idea Flare prompt can be a general question to spark connection (like above) or something more related to the class material.

It’s so important to establish mutual trust in the classroom in order to successfully create a collaborative space and gain the benefits from the sharing of multiple perspectives. With a culture of inclusivity and trust in the classroom educators can bring students into lessons to reflect and process the material together. Students must feel safe and allow themselves to be vulnerable in order to freely express their creativity. Using our warm-ups and energizers at the start of class is a simple way to form emotional connections that will help people bond. Once that trust is established, students will be more inclined to showcase their personality and creativity as they investigate and present ideas and solutions together!

Cultivating engagement

In normal times, it can be challenging to create and maintain engagement in the classroom and that has only increased as we have suddenly found ourselves in a remote world. Luckily, MURAL provides ways to encourage engagement within any classroom and does so in a fun way that stokes creativity. Facilitating lesson plans and lectures with MURAL becomes most effective when students are invited into the lesson canvas to interact and respond directly with the course material.

A brainstorm is an effective way to have students engage directly with the material being taught. Begin with a prompt and create a space for students to write their responses on sticky notes. Running the brainstorm in Private Mode can help avoid groupthink and alleviate distractions. Follow up by having the students cluster sticky notes by category or organize the sticky notes by dragging into areas. End by having a group discussion on the results and why choices were made etc. Brainstorms can be used in any class to provide opportunity for students to respond to the material, organize ideas, and show their thinking and comprehension.

Imaginations will be stimulated as students dig deeper, make personal connections, and visibly share their own thinking. We want students to creatively express themselves and work socially to support and challenge one another, which leads to better connection with and comprehension of the material being taught. Most students just need a slight nudge in the right direction to find themselves feeling more connected to their classmates and the material being presented. With MURAL you have exactly what you need to create new and exciting pathways to student engagement within the classroom.

Thinking visually

MURAL is a platform for visual thinking and promotes expression through images, videos, process flows, frameworks, colored sticky notes, drawings, and more. Using MURAL to teach creates multimedia learning experiences for students by activating both auditory and visual learning channels, which drives deeper comprehension of the material. Utilizing visual metaphors helps students draw on prior knowledge and experiences as they make associations to better understand the concepts being presented.

Research projects are an example of how students can use MURAL for visual collaboration. To start, the class can be split into groups and each group can be assigned a research topic. Students can research and add text, images, audio, video and more to their MURAL canvas. They can use sticky notes and comments to highlight their thoughts and responses to the material and can add links to their primary sources. When completed, students can share their screen and use Presentation Mode in the MURAL outline to present to the class.

Expressing thoughts and ideas visually can be especially effective when students are collaborating, as it stimulates creative thinking and fosters clarity of understanding between people. Increasing opportunities for students to collaborate visually and share diverse perspectives leads to more holistic understanding and deeper insights with the material being presented. Educators will gain a better understanding of students’ thought processes and comprehension, as their thinking becomes visible on the canvas.

Imagination learning

We are really excited about all the ways pedagogy is being adapted for the modern classroom with MURAL. Educators are facilitating visual collaboration across a vast range of disciplines, including Architecture, Biostatistics, Design, Fine Arts, Marketing, History, Languages, Business, Food Studies, Chemistry, Physics, Engineering, Environmental Sciences, Cultural Studies, Theater, and more. With MURAL, you have a space to make ideas visual, methods to bring clarity to imagination, and the freedom to share your vision. When put into practice within institutions of higher education MURAL can transform how we learn.

We are all imagination learners – people who thrive on collaborating with others from diverse backgrounds and disciplines to engage with new information together in order to comprehend the world in new and exciting ways. Come and join this global community of educators by going to mural.co/education today. Sign up for an upcoming Teacher’s Lounge to learn more.

This article originally appeared on Medium.