Students need to have a sense of community in their virtual classes. This is no different for learners in any setting. The tricky thing about online learning is that some of the given of the face to face classroom are not present. Thus, the teacher has the responsibility of creating an environment online that meets this need of community. From the beginning, I want to note that in my numerous years of teaching I have had students who not connecting with their fellow students nor me in a face to face classroom. It took thought, creativity and patience to bring about the feeling of community. We are, then, not unlike face to face teachers. Teachers must lead by example in the classroom and online. We simply need to be more aware of the need.
With the exception of a few students I have taught online who had Asperger’s or other learning or emotional challenges and wanted to work in isolation, my online students have thrived when they felt part of a community of learners. Retention and satisfaction with virtual learning are highly correlated to the student having a feeling of community.
What is important is for the teacher to have a real presence in the virtual classroom. The more teacher-student and student-student interaction, the more meaningful the course is. What are things the teacher can do?
Giving meaningful feedback as quickly as possible is essential. Those of who are working on the TOOL have to be feeling just like our students. We submit quests and we want feedback…and we want it quickly. Just think of the natural impatience of adolescence. Feedback can be given on dropbox assignments, on quizzes and on tests.
Discussions have a two-fold purpose with regard to community. Students communicate with the teacher and they communicate with each other. Here is another important place for feedback.
In my online teaching career I have had, and continue to have, students who need a one-on-one talks with the teacher. Sometimes there are issue that are too difficult and time-consuming for them to write. Sometimes there needs to be genuine, on the spot dialogue to find out what the student needs and have the teacher formulate a plan of redirection towards success in the course rather than failure. A phone call or a one to one live meeting can make a world of difference.
Our students need to feel that they belong and that their efforts are valid. The basic psyche of the adolescent has not changed so drastically, even if they are social-mediaed, texted and gamified. Their intrinsic desire to belong and be recognized has not morphed out of their systems. We, their teachers, their coaches, need to be constantly aware of their need for feedback and encouragement.