Random Selectors for Remote Group Breakout Activities

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This tip was prepared in consultation with the Teaching & Learning Team 

Random selection is a simple, fun, and fair way to select groups to debrief after breakout discussion, activities, etc. in remote classes. This tip shares some freely available random selectors and tips for using them.

How to Use Random Selectors After Breakouts 

random selector (or random name picker) is a web-based tool or app that uses an algorithm to make random selections. To use a random selector for breakout groups, input the group numbers (or names), then click “spin the wheel” to select a first group to present. After wheel has selected the group and the group’s reporter has presented, remove that group from the wheel and spin again.

A colourful wheel for selecting groups. A red curtain behind the wheel, which has Groups 1 to 7 inputed as possible selecctions
Photo by Elan Paulson CC BY

Benefits of Using Random Selectors After Breakouts

Student benefits 

  • Encourages paying close attention 
  • Provides a shared equal ownership of meaning-making in class 
  • Fun and engaging to watch 
  • Can increases student preparation for class (Levy 2014) 
  • Can increase student voluntary participation (Dallimore et al., 2013) 

Faculty/class benefits 

  • Shares clear expectations that everyone is expected to be active participants in class (Mugabi, 2019)  
  • Saves time waiting for groups to volunteer go first 
  • Avoids the same students or groups going first 
  • Keeps track of which groups have spoken 
  • Can modestly improve student grades (Devers 7 Devers, 2018) 

Student Comfort with Random Selectors   

While there may be certain benefits to “cold calling” students in various contexts (C. Roland Christensen Center for Teaching and Learning, 2019), there is no doubt that calling on students randomly can be very stressful for them. It is not advised that these random selectors be used to surprise students and “cold call” them to answer questions during class.  

Here are some suggested ideas for minimizing the stress of students: 

  • Use a selection tool early in the course for answering fun questions (or use it on yourself to answer favourite food, favourite tv show, etc.)
  • Forewarn students about how you will ask them to participate, explain your rationale, and invite students to let you know if for personal or processing reasons this will be problematic for them 
  • Explain that the entire breakout group is responsible for choosing a reporter and preparing the reporter to speak on behalf of the group 
  • Give a 2-minute break to the class before resuming with the debriefs, which gives the reporters time to prepare
  • Be aware that the random selector animations may have a negative affect on students who are sensitive to motion

Random Selector Tools 

Below are random selectors that are simple to set up, use, and show via screenshare. Check the Privacy and Terms policies before using any web-based app to understand what information about you may be collected. 

Spin-The-Wheel Random Selectors 

More wheels are available at An online wheel spinner for every occasion (Reimers, 2019). 

Other Random Selectors

These apps can offer alternatives random selectors for selecting groups after breakouts.   

More Tips for Using Random Selection in Class

  • Prep the wheel in advance, and save the list, where possible 
  • Remember to screenshare the selector so students can see it in real time 
  • Try selecting group presentation order in advance of the breakouts so students can prepare to present first or respond to others
  • Towards the end of the semester, ask whether the random selector is still necessary (groups may be more confident and willing to present)
  • Read terms and privacy policies before creating app accounts 

Looking for an overview of why “cold calling” makes students anxious and how prepping for random selection might help?  The notecard idea described in the following publication (available in the Conestoga Library) could be adapted to “random selectors” online: Calling on students using notecards: engagement and countering communication anxiety in large lecture

References 

Broeckelman-Post, M., Johnson, A., & Schwebach, J. R. (2016). Calling on students using notecards: engagement and countering communication anxiety in large lecture. Journal of College Science Teaching, 5(27). See Permalink 

(C. Roland Christensen Center for Teaching and Learning (2019). The art of cold calling. Harvard Business Publishing (Education). https://hbsp.harvard.edu/inspiring-minds/the-art-of-cold-calling

Dallimore, E., & Hertenstein, J., & Platt, M. (2013). Impact of cold-calling on student voluntary participation. Journal of Management Education. 37. 305-341. 10.1177/1052562912446067.  

Devers, C. & Devers, E. (2018). The wheel of discussion: A new approach to cold-calling. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 27(4), pp. 471-480. Waynesville, NC USA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).  

Levy, D. (2014). Cold calling and web postings: Do they improve students’ preparation and learning in statistics? Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 14(5), pp.92-110. 

Mugabi, T. (2019, November 28). How to randomly select a student. https://www.classcraft.com/blog/features/how-to-randomly-select-a-student/  

Reimers, P. (2019, March 22). An online wheel spinner for every occasion. https://blog.tcea.org/online-spinner/  

Elan Paulson

Elan Paulson, PhD, has been an educator in Ontario's higher education system since 2004. Before joining Conestoga as a Teaching and Learning Consultant, Elan was on the executive team at eCampusOntario. She previously served as Program Director and as an instructor in professional education programs at Western University's Faculty of Education. With a Master's in Educational Technology, Elan specializes in technology-enabled and collaborative learning to support diverse learners. She has also conducted research on faculty participation in communities of practice for professional learning and self-care.

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