I set aside time each semester and each class to create a sense of community and build rapport with and among my students.
Creating a sense of cohesion in the class is especially important in the online environment where it can be easy for students to disengage behind a screen. Through short and simple social activities, you can engage your students and increase participation while communicating class expectations and setting a positive tone for the course.
Keep the following overarching ideas in mind as you think about what to do when with your students.
- Be consistent.
- Be yourself and show your interest in the students’ experience.
- Provide opportunities for students to work together with clear guidelines.
While it’s true that we all feel the time crunch when giving classes online, using some of that time at the beginning of the semester and later throughout the course pays off by leading to increased participation and engagement.
At the beginning of the semester, take some time to get to know the students and let them get to know each other while also introducing them to the collaborative tools you will be working with in the course. For example, if you will be using the discussion forum, have the first week’s assignment be to post a line about what they are most looking forward to in the class as well as an image or meme (with a description) that describes their outlook for the semester. Ask them to reply to a few classmates. During the next class, be sure to refer to these posts by commenting on them or integrating some of the ideas in the lesson.
During classes, keep things interesting by incorporating activities that let students interact. In addition to group work and small group discussions, stop for a 5-minute energizer that allows students to be social. For example, to get student up and moving, challenge students to be the first back on the screen with their sunglasses or some other symbol of vacation. To keep things interesting and create a sense of ownership, ask different students to be responsible for the energizers.
1. Get class started with a silly quiz over a relevant topic. Ask students to make predictions over a sports game or TV show or have students rate their favorite lockdown activities. Having students get started with the tools you will be using in class lowers the threshold for communicating via that platform later.
2. Get personal. Share your experience and learn about your students. What’s going well and what are some challenges you share? Open your virtual class space before and after class time to make space for conversations, questions, and sharing. If you are organized, have topics to discuss or make it a space to give suggestions and tips.
Also, be sure to ask your students for feedback on a regular basis. What can you do and what can they do to make the course work the best for them?
3. Set a positive tone for group work. Give group members clear roles and set clear expectations for the work, but work in some fun. For example, think of some fun criteria to divide up the roles, such as the student who lives the farthest from campus will be the facilitator.