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.

Screen shot 2014-08-22 at 12.09.46 PM

Screen shot 2014-08-22 at 12.17.51 PMI’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?

photoThey 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.

11 Responses

  1. Hey Ms. Tucker! I adore your blog and all of your great teaching ideas that I am going to jump in and try this year! My one question for you is about sections of classes. I have 4 different freshman classes, so obviously I wouldn’t have them all post on a blog page at once. Do you have separate blogs for all of your different sections of class, or how do you work that out?

    • Thank you, Christina!

      I don’t use a blog for our online discussions. This year I am using Schoology. My students do have their own individual blogs where they blog about topics they are passionate about. Here is my blog on that!

      I’d suggest finding a discussion tool and have your students engage in icebreakers, then academic asynchronous discussions, online. I have a separate group for each of my classes.

      Let me know if you have any additional questions.

      Take care! Thank you for the comment.


  2. Excellent post. I thought you might be interested in my thoughts on creating online community:

    I teach online and am a university administrator in charge of online faculty development and instructional design. I thought you also might be interested in a a couple of examples of online communities.

    I blog with my students
    You will see links to their blogs off of mine.

    And I have created an online community for online educators and did a presentation some time ago on how to build a successful online community. Please feel free to join the community if you are interested:

    : ) Alex

  3. Students need to be structured and monitored for success. When they operate under rules that they participate in creating or identify with, when they are part of problem solving, it gives them a sense of responsibility and ownership. They tend to accept, follow and do well.

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