More and more teachers are venturing online with their students to enhance and extend the work done in the classroom. There are myriad benefits to engaging students online and replacing classic pen and paper assignments with more dynamic online lessons, asynchronous conversations and collaborative activities.
Unfortunately, many teachers jump into the online space without creating the foundation needed to ensure students will participate respectfully, supportively and substantively.
I believe we must follow the same steps we use in the classroom to build community online.
1. Establish Clear Expectations for Behavior
2. Give Students a Chance to Practice
3. Gently Correct Missteps Online
Establish Clear Expectations for Behavior
Just as we discuss the norms for behavior in our physical classroom, I had students decide what was appropriate for our interactions and communication the online space. I asked them to work in groups to establish “norms” for our behavior online. Then I presented them with my “Dos and Don’ts for Online Communication” (available with other online community building resources in my book Blended Learning in Grades 4-12). We merged our lists to ensure we had a clear set of expectations prior to our first assignment online.
Give Students a Chance to Practice
Many of my students have never been asked to complete work online prior to my class, so it is important that they have a chance to practice in a low stress situation. I use online icebreakers to create opportunities for students to get to know one another and practice these new expectations for online behavior and communication.
Below is a screenshot of our first online icebreaker this year. Students stunned me with how strong their initial interactions were. I believe it was a product of our classroom conversations about online communication norms.
I’ve designed a collection of icebreakers that work well in the online space to help students get to know their peers, form relationships and practice engaging respectfully and substantively with one another online. (Note: 16 online icebreakers also featured in my book Blended Learning in Grades 4-12).
Gently Correct Missteps Online
Blending online work with face to face interactions in the classroom is most effective when the work done in one medium is woven seamlessly into the other medium.
After our initial online discussions, I selected several student responses and replies and copied them onto a document. I removed all of the students’ names for anonymity. Then I made copies – one for each group.
I asked the groups to read and critique the online discussions:
- What was done well? Identify areas of strength.
- What could be improved? As a group, add edits to the paper to improve the responses and peer replies.
- Are any of the “dos and don’ts” of online communication violated? If so, how can you fix those errors?
They worked collaboratively to discuss, critique and improve the responses and peer replies. Then we finished with a whole group discussion of what was done well and what missteps need to be avoided next time.
These types of activities reinforce expectations for online engagement to ensure that students’ work online stays respectful and productive. I’d encourage teachers to approach the online space with intention and use the same kinds of strategies they use in the classroom to build community online.