Some of my primary concerns about this current online world of teaching are the creation of community and how to effectively engage learners.
There is an abundance of literature out there on these topics, and therein lies the problem. It’s easy to become overwhelmed when faced with a plethora of information while simultaneously juggling multiple projects and managing time constraints. Things that are practical and easy to use frequently get overlooked in the process.
As I reflected on how best to address these issues, I came up with a few ideas that I’d like to share.
Set the Tone
First, there’s a need to develop a welcoming, positive, safe space for learning. One way to accomplish this is to create a personal introduction that conveys your passion for the subject. Sharing who you are puts a face to a name and sets the tone for the course. I used a digital storytelling approach, as this provided multiple means of representation, combining sounds, images, and text, in a multimedia, computer-based platform.
Spend time on getting acquainted with your students, using fun activities, and assist learners in establishing personal learning goals. Address the expectations of learners, brainstorm “ways of being” as a group, and define acceptable standards of conduct in the virtual classroom. Another effortless way to engage learners is to allow them to develop or choose their own assignment topics.
Inclusive Lesson Planning
When it comes to lesson planning, introduce the chosen topic by sharing a story or current event. Reframe your lesson objective as a question, and take your students on a journey of discovery. Create an online poll to find out what the students already know, by activating their preexisting knowledge. Ask open-ended questions to prompt group discussions. Instead of basing learning on the search for a ‘correct answer’, focus on exploring the discovery process, and include some metacognitive reflection, to develop students’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Discover common interests
Start discussions in small groups and ask students to reorganize themselves, according to common interests. To alleviate the initial discomfort of group work, assign students group roles, such as note taker, presenter, and researcher.
Engaging our students online does not necessarily require huge amounts of work: we just need to be more intentional in our planning and practice.
Post written by: Lee-Ann Webb
Lee-Ann has an Hon. B Comm. from McMaster University, certificate in TESL from Saskatchewan University and an MEd. (specialization social and cultural contexts) from Brock University. She previously taught English in Japan, Mexico, and China; currently Lee-Ann teaches in the field of English for Academic Purposes in Canada. Her research interests are intercultural competencies in higher education and the scholarship of teaching and learning.