Published: May 05, 2022
Building Positive Online Classroom Communities
To teach effectively online, you need a classroom community. Without fostering a sense of community, it can be challenging to keep students engaged and replicate the sense of togetherness that an offline classroom can have. This generally leads to a sense of isolation, facilitating a lack of motivation on behalf of students, who will be content to log in to the class and do the bare minimum, waiting to close the lesson. Good collaboration can help foster a sense of classroom community, and we provide some advice to help you do just that.
Creating classroom ‘norms’
When classes start at the beginning of the school year, there is often a set of rules, norms and expectations established. Virtual teaching should be no different, and this can help make sure your students are engaged and understand what you expect of them.
The norms and rules for online teaching will be different. They may be about how to get the teacher’s attention, when to speak, when to turn on or off video and audio, what tools they should use, although there will be other rules that apply in any teaching scenario, such as how to treat each other, completing tasks, and asking questions.
To have greater success encouraging students to follow these norms, it’s crucial to get them involved in the process. Frequently, teachers get the students to sign an expectation contract, but this isn’t enough. Get students to contribute to the rules they would like to see and agree to. By involving them in the rules and norms they follow, they will have more of an incentive to follow them.
Using online collaboration tools is a great way to do just this. Discussion boards and collaborative brainstorming applications, such as Google Jamboard, can let students put suggestions for norms, and then after they agree to them, and sign a student declaration.
A good tip is to not have too many rules and norms, to keep the norms clear and easy to remember. This can be turned into a visual poster, which can be created with collaboration tools or document sharing collectively, to foster a sense of classroom community. This then can be placed on the virtual platform where all documents should be stored.
Show students how to navigate your virtual platform
The virtual platform should be the space for assignments, useful information for students (and parents) and generally the go-to space for the teaching experience.
In your first lesson, go through the virtual platform with your students, explaining exactly where things are, how things work, where the video platform will be, and make it clear what tools and resources they will need to have prepared themselves i.e. Zoom/Google Classroom installed on their computer.
You can also have guides for all the online collaboration tools that they will be using, so they can fully understand what to do. You should ensure there are links or integrations to the necessary document collaboration tools and that the relevant documents from class are easily accessible, to guarantee that students can easily undertake their tasks.
This makes it clear how things work, not only so no information is lost, but to create a sense of belonging to the virtual platform, which is effectively a virtual classroom. By guiding them through the space, they will understand it well and become familiar with it.
Implement discussion boards
Discussion boards are a particularly useful method to develop classroom community. You can set tasks where students need to share their work and progress with each other, discuss, share knowledge and offer their opinion. This will of course depend on the age of the students, and the topic, but the concept of having spaces where the teacher is less instructive, allowing for more peer to peer interaction, is a vital way to not only help students develop their independent research and critical thinking skills, but to develop the classroom community.
Collaborative tasks are great to foster a classroom community, in general. This can be done via real-time collaboration tools, whether for classwork, homework, projects, or any other task that can be done in a group.For example, using cloud collaboration tools you can have students create a poster, co-write a presentation or paper, or brainstorm ideas. Team document collaboration is a great tool in this regard, and many programs allow for collaboration on a range of document types.
Involve parents and family for optimal support
A major challenge of online teaching is engagement. Keeping students eager to learn from the comfort of their home, which has typically not been seen as a place for school for the students, is no easy task. Parent involvement is always useful, but it has a particular role in online learning.
Parents should be informed about all updates, aware of the student’s behavior in class, how engaged they are, and what homework tasks they’re due to complete. This ensures that the student doesn't miss out on key learning opportunities, and that their parent can help motivate and encourage them. If parents are in the dark, the student may easily fall behind in their work.
Online document collaboration doesn’t have to be limited to students, and it can be useful to get this involvement from parents. You can utilize online collaboration tools together with parents, as well as discussion boards, to share vital information. Also consider providing parents with access to the virtual platform. Communication between parents, teachers as well as students, is vital, as not only does it foster a sense of community, but it actively gives a voice to all parties. The student should feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and concerns, as should the parent and the teacher.
Creating a strong classroom community requires work, however, it is worth it to establish an engaging and effective learning environment. With an engaged class, satisfied students, happy parents, and productive lessons, the online teaching journey will become considerably easier. In relation to useful collaboration tools, consider Lumin PDF, not only can it help provide useful documents for teachers to prepare for their lessons, but it can allow for collaboration on editing PDFs, which can be useful in the classroom.