Online learning has become the new standard these days. The convenience and flexibility of the online classes enable learners to develop new skills and further their education, regardless of where they live. However, even with all its benefits and exciting features, online classes can sometimes isolate students and teachers. The critical question here is how can you build a sense of community in your online classes? One approach, therefore, involves cultivating more interaction and student engagement between you and your students and among the students themselves.
Here are five fundamental tips for increasing the human connection in your online classrooms.
1. Integrate real-time interaction
When online classrooms are entirely asynchronous, there is often limited or controlled interaction between you and your students and class students with each other. Consider, for example, that real-time conversations or student engagement don't occur during a video lecture, when you post some announcements, or when students post on a discussion board. This kind of lag in response time kills the momentum of a back-and-forth discussion and can sometimes lead to misunderstandings and also appear monotonous or boring.
Combining opportunities for real-time interaction into your online classes can help change that and develop a sense of community in an online learning course. Consider how impromptu or sudden conversations outside the traditional classroom lead to relationships, clarify ideas, and also spark new insights. You can easily facilitate these types of interactions by setting up opportunities for class members to meet online synchronously, both formally and informally. Using web conferencing applications, you can create various integrated interaction opportunities, such as office hours, small group discussions, whole-class discussions, and study groups.
2. Get creative with discussion boards
Discussion boards have been the communication staple for online classes, but there are many ways in which you can make this experience more interactive for much broader and deeper participation. In a traditional classroom, it's quite common for only a tiny percentage of students to participate in any discussion. In an online environment, you can well structure your discussions so that everyone gets a fair chance to contribute, and they'll have more time to consider what they want to say before responding. Class size also lets you determine how you organize these discussions. In a larger class of, e.g., 100 students, you can also set up smaller discussion groups of 20 or so people so that students can also get to know their fellow classmates. You can also similarly create even smaller groups of about 5-7 people for more intimate interaction and subsequently rotate these groups to expand interactions. This approach also works well with smaller class sizes.
One approach that fosters better student engagement is creating open-ended discussion prompts, such as requiring students to provide some examples or asking them to explain a concept from a variety of different perspectives. You could also create student-facilitated discussion opportunities where students develop the discussion prompt and then guide the ensuing dialogue.
3. Increase engagement with non-task interaction
Non-task interactions can be defined as exchanges that are not part of the direct learning system but help create a supportive learning community. You can facilitate these student interactions by using the social networking capabilities readily available in many learning management systems, such as chat and web conferencing. Students can also create special interest groups or study groups using the group functionality. Suppose your learning management system doesn't have the functionality to support a social network.
Additionally, academic, social networks require structured planning and ongoing solid maintenance. The core value of the social network needs to be quite explicit before it becomes a common destination. Many schools or learning channels begin by asking students to create their bios and add profile pictures. Still, these activities alone will not encourage students to keep returning to the network. Techniques for transforming the social network into a final destination includes frequently updating content either on a weekly or if possible daily basis and incorporating contributions to the social network into classes (e.g. using the social network tools for some group work; asking students to post their learning or discussion contributions into their social network feed).
4. Use several communication tools
This is crucial for increasing and enhancing student engagement and interaction. For example, many schools or online learning classes can create a program-wide social network that allows students to continue their friendship with other students from course to course. Within this private social network, the administrators and support groups can use direct messages, important announcements, and live events to enhance student engagement in the online program.
5. Have a firm plan around the tool
A tech tool is only as valuable as how you use it from a pedagogical perspective. When you move a face-to-face course online or try to build an online course from scratch, you need to consider how the interaction will support the learning goals in your course. By enhancing the opportunities for student interaction in your online classrooms, you can take an already powerful learning opportunity to a completely next level for all of your students. This can be quickly done with Teachmint's online learning app. With over 10,00,000 teachers and more than 20,00,000 classes, Teachmint has taken online learning to a whole new level. Being India's number 1 online teaching platform, it makes students future-ready.
While the primary focus has been on creating a better virtual environment for students, it is only natural for admins or teachers to be stressed out by the "new normal" world. You may have friends you haven't been able to meet for a long time, children at home struggling with their own online learning, or difficulty with the virtual teaching format, and that is okay. The phrase "we're all in this together" reminds us all that the pandemic impacts everyone differently, but together, we can get through it. Therefore, it is essential for teachers and students to enjoy the online learning process.