In my discipline, ESL, creating a sense of community in the classroom is critical to success of the instructor, the instruction, and the students. If students feel comfortable in their learning environment and with their classmates, they will be more willing to take risks in using the language they are learning (the affective filter idea). In addition, the fact that the courses I teach are noncredit (students don’t pay because we offer free class supported by a government Workforce Investment Grant), so it is often said that students “vote with their feet.” In other words, if they quit, they haven’t lost anything besides their time. Fostering a supportive, warm, welcoming environment, therefore, also supports retention. Finally, the millennials are so socially-connected, if they make up the enrollment of any class, they bring with them the expectation of a social community.
Over the years, I have gotten pretty good at creating community in my F2F classes. I know all my students’ names by the end of the first day of class, and they have had a chance to meet others in the class through various ice-breakers. Translating that into an online platform will be a challenge, but luckily courses I teach in the future will be hybrid only, so I will still be able to foster the community building in the onground portion of my classes. Therefore, the challenge will be to sustain community online, although I am not anticipating that to be a huge challenge. My students already friend each other on FB without my asking them to do so. They create a supportive network and form friendships that last even after the class is over.
I imagine that the methods I will use to sustain community in the online portions of my classes will be through activities in which read and comment on each other’s writing and projects, voice message boards, discussion boards, and eventually/hopefully video and videoconferencing. Even though I will continue to do ice-breakers, pair and group work, and many communicative and cooperative learning activities in the F2F portion of my classes, I’m excited to see how these pan out in an online environment. Research in my field has shown that many second language learners who are hesitant to speak up and participate in class (for a variety of reasons, including not wanting make mistakes in front of classmates for risk of losing face) come alive online!
Something new I learned from the text is about Blackboard’s Group Activity Areas, and I hope to be able to try them out soon. For grading, I have used Engrade, which I really liked, but lately I have been using Blackboard’s Gradebook, even though it’s clunky and even though we don’t give grades in noncredit. Students want to see how they are doing in the class, and with our college’s credit-to-noncredit transition goals for students, it’s important for them to see their progress. Again, I prefer Engrade, but to not have students looking in multiple places for different bits of the course, I chose to stay within Blackboard.
To conclude this post, a couple of take-aways from this week’s Manifesto slideshow that I plan to print out and hang above my work computer are the following:
Online teaching should not be downgraded into facilitation.
Community and contact drive good online teaching.
I also like (and already do) some of the activities suggested for building community online, as shown in this slideshow “Facilitating a sense of Community in Online and Blended Learning Environments”