Rachèle DeMéo, MiraCosta College (French)
As an online student, it can be challenging to feel part of the “classroom”. I can identify as a student–one of my two Master degrees was completely online. But I can also identify as an instructor. So what are some ways to keep our students feeling a part of a community in our online classes?
Here are some ways I believe we can help our students to create a community online.
As a student
Something I make my students do the first week of our semester together is to pair up with another student to practice weekly. I teach French (I’m originally from the South of France) and practicing a language is essential in learning it. So based on their usual weekly schedule, students pick a time/day that usually works for them and they can either meet in person or via Skype to practice. Weekly, I provide them with a prompt so they can know what they need to practice (which correlates to our lesson).
They also have to jot down the time/day they practiced and provide me with other details.
The Discussion Board on Blackboard is a great way to keep our students feeling involved in our online community. I’ve seen instructors use the Discussion Board in a variety of ways to keep students plugged in (pun intended) to their classrooms. Here are some of the ways I personally use Blackboard.
At the beginning of the semester, I ask students to introduce themselves and include a picture or avatar. I ask a few more things based on their level, modeling it by introducing myself first.
Throughout the semester I’ll create different posts (not an overload, but a few) such as asking them what their hobbies are. By seeing their classmates’ hobbies, they can connect outside the classroom (and hopefully speak/text/email in French together!).
Mid-Terms are another way to get the entire classroom to get to know one another. I assign them with a Group project and then they have to comment on one another’s presentations.
Throughout the semester I encourage them to do activities with their classmates, outside of the classroom setting. I inform them about upcoming local events (relating to the French language) they might want to attend.
I also recommend they form study groups (based on their location) so they can study together.
As an instructor
Something I saw demonstrated so well by my (absolutely amazing) grad Professor (Dr. Beth Ackerman) was to personally reach out to students. I believe it’s important we show we genuinely care about their success but also about them as a person. Writing a short email asking how they are doing, can help create that community we are looking for. I will also email them if they are missing assignments or have been “absent” online for a while (they might have something going on at home that I should be aware of). Since we can’t always sense the “tone” (or see any facial expressions) in an email I always try my best to sound understanding, professional and personal. I make it a point to respond to emails as soon as I can (usually 2-3 business days). It helps me create a relationship with each individual student.
I encourage them to sign-up for my office hours. I use SignUpGenius to schedule my office hours. I give them the option to meet in person (on campus) or via Skype. I tell my online students that I’d love to meet them in person.
Half-way through the semester, I have them take an oral exam with me (instead of with a classmate). This gives me an opportunity to “meet” them (online or in person). It also makes it less intimidating for them when we have our final oral exam together.
Weekly, I create short videos to give them announcements and introduce the new week ahead.
I send out announcements (sent directly to their email inbox) several times a week. I’ll keep them updated on what I have graded (I try to grade any submitted work within 1-2 weeks), let them know of any important assignments coming up and give them additional resources, tools, etc.
To me those are small ways to keep students in our online class feeling part of the community of our classroom.
Finally, I’d like to take a moment to thank two wonderful Professors who have helped me in my journey in online teaching: Pilar Hernandez and David Detwiler.
I hope this post was useful to you. Thank you for reading.