by Michael Strickland
Deepening my connection with students and creating community is a topic to which I give a lot of thought. Unlike face-to-face classrooms, online classrooms have greater potential to feel cold mechanical. That is why I spend Initiating and encouraging discussions. I make frequent use of the chatbox to encourage participation, much like I would in a face-to-face class.
I always open up class with positive thoughts. I treat students like they are human. I greet them with a smile.
Discussions, posting powerpoint presentations, highlighting reading material, and monitoring progress are all areas that I put on the frontburner. This helps bring humanity and warmth into my online classroom . These activities help me get to know my students. I build relationships by giving them regular, reasonably spontaneous opportunities to talk about activities, hobbies and other parts of life outside of school.
Student involvement in individual live lessons gets them working with the material in ways that they may not do on their own. This leads students to have a truly rich and holistic experience in my class — more than just a grade. I also utilize these same themes in every phone call I make. I am considering sending out some surveys using Google forms, as an additional feedback mechanism. Such low-pressure, anonymous response tools often yield information that students may not otherwise feel comfortable offering.
Today’s classrooms are very different from what many people may have thought of as a traditional set of students. A recent article in the Atlantic stated that: “ If a hypothetical classroom of 30 children was based on current demographics in the United States, this is how the students in that classroom would live: Seven would live in poverty; 11 would be non-white; six wouldn’t speak English as a first language; six wouldn’t be reared by their biological parents; one would be homeless, and six would be victims of abuse.”
Students are bombarded with an endless variety of texts. Books, magazines, pamphlets, every conceivable social media platform, faxes, texts, Ipod downloads, snail mail, email and television screens with thousands of channels. Finally, we are often reminded that online students don’t end up at our school because they were happy and doing well elsewhere. These current realities make those deep teacher-student connections more important than ever.