Learning can sometimes be a lonely endeavor when done virtually—and that can make staying on task exceptionally challenging for some students. COVID-19 restrictions, distance learning, and hybrid education models have learners more separated from each other than ever before. That’s why fostering a stronger connection and a sense of community is crucial for the social and emotional growth of students. After all, the peer relationships that students form with each other are essential for their social and cognitive development. Here are some strategies to help students develop stronger relationships and a sense of community online.
How Can You Help Students Build Community?
Basing their approach in well-researched pedagogy, educators have employed several tactics and strategies that can aid in building community among students.
Build Group Time Into Your Lesson Plans
Whether you’re teaching in person or over a webcam, building group work into your lesson plans is a great first step in fostering community among students. Group work can consist of:
- Group projects: The standby—but reliable—version of “group time” is the group project. When your students collaborate on a significant project they learn how to work together and communicate effectively. Collaboration can result in a deeper and more enriching learning experience, in part because students are able to help each other digest material in a relevant context. Online, this can be done by generating separate “meeting rooms” in whatever service you’re using.
- Group discussion boards: A group of 30 students isn’t always the most effective format for an in depth discussion of classroom topics. Creating small group discussion boards or breakout rooms can help ensure that all students are engaged. Creating clear assignments around each discussion can help students stay organized.
- Peer-to-Peer Collaborative Learning: Create opportunities where students can learn more about each other by leveraging classroom content, e.g. comparing life experiences to characters from novels, history, current events etc.
Teachers can leverage digital checklists and graphic organizers to help students stay on task and complete projects. As students become familiar with their project groups, they’ll learn essential team-building and social skills. If the groups start to become stagnant or the students require a new challenge, teachers can easily switch up the groups, especially in a virtual space.
Create Novel Challenges
To be sure, learning in the time of COVID-19 is a challenge in and of itself. But teachers can help foster community by setting classroom-wide challenges of a different nature. For example, an English teacher could set a goal for the class to collectively read 100 books in a month. By emphasizing the aspirational nature of the challenge, tracking the results, and encouraging the students, the educator can create a shared experience.
This shared experience can then form the basis for a sense of community among the students. Such activities can help to establish that students are on the same team even if they aren’t in the same room.
Use Gamification to Motivate Students
Teachers have a history of using games to reinforce core concepts. Learner enthusiasm increases if students have fun while they are learning. Increased enthusiasm then leads to deeper and richer engagement, as well as stronger recall.
Gamification can help students bond organically if they are working in teams. In a gamified classroom, this could entail:
- Creating structures that allows the team to “level up.” In most games, a player’s character will level up when they have earned enough experience points. Educators can emulate this by codifying assignments in terms of XP.
- Specified achievements can unlock progression. A team that achieves a 90% on five assignments, for example, could unlock a “Straight As” badge.
- Community digital scavenger hunts are an innovative way to bolster teamwork among students. Create a menu of activity options for students to choose from that the group can earn points from. GooseChase is a great free digital tool teachers can use for such a project. Clerisy account holders can access free Instructional Technology Shorts that provide step-by-step tips for teachers to learn how to incorporate emerging new digital educational technologies into their lessons.
Rather than turning one specific assignment or concept into play, gamification transforms the entire education experience. Students can share goals and network to help each other reach higher achievements which keeps students on task while also reinforcing social bonds, and building relationships.
Build Questions into the Curriculum
Oftentimes virtual learning can feel one-directional. Teachers sometimes make a video for students to watch and report on, or students are assigned coursework to complete and hand in for review. In some ways, asking a question in a virtual space can actually be more challenging, for both educators and for learners.
Incorporating open-ended questions into your assignments is essential to building and supporting your classroom community. You can add open-ended questions in a group format via a message board, or polling feature. These tactics create a pathway to making the class more engaging, while also fostering critical thinking. Creating an organized forum where students can connect with their peers and teachers bolsters a sense of community.
To learn more about incorporating emerging new digital educational technologies into your lessons, create a Clerisy account for free access to monthly Instructional Technology Shorts for step-by-step tips.