Monday, October 10, 2011

3 Teachers Weigh in on How to Build Community with Online Students

Barriers you might experience when trying to build community with a group of online students in grades 6-12

1. The traditional view of education and learning.  Some are a bit stuck in the paradigm that sees their mind as an empty vessel that needs to be filled with facts from a textbook; they do not realize that most knowledge is a human construction.  That the highest levels of knowledge are not at the bottom of Bloom's taxonomy (memorize facts) but at the top of Bloom's taxonomy were students create knowledge through social interaction.  You know the saying, "Left to myself I am not very smart..."  Students need to discover that through discussion boards and other online assignments they are constructing their knowledge with each other.

2. The system itself.   Currently, this includes the banning of social media, you tube, cell phone use, and the overall opinion that the teacher has the answers and the students are supposed to learn from them alone.  The barriers come from those who still believe that the factory version of schooling is working, or should be enforced.  School is no longer about sitting at your desk and listening to the teacher lecture.  Once more people realize this, education will shift, and there will be new, different barriers to discuss and knock down. 

3. Getting the students comfortable enough to share.  One way to take away this barrier is to ensure that the class is a "safe" place for them to share.   Making sure the teacher has very clear expectations about how students respond to other students posts.  Almost like the old mantra "if you don't have something nice to say..." This is also a great time and place to teach students about constructive criticism.

Techniques used to overcome those barriers

1. Cognitive apprenticeship. This is the process of making my ways of thinking transparent, allowing students into my mental processes.  This can be done by explicitly explaining how a student change my way of knowing through the process of online dialogue.  Or by asking provocative questions that shed light  on their own thinking.

2. Working to have the bans removed, and to show, respectfully, that they are essential to the learning process for our 21st century, digital citizens.  This can be accomplished by continuing to explore the various technology tools that contribute to positive, effective community building experiences for our students, both locally and globally.

3. Creating opportunities to connect. When students feel like they belong or that their opinions matter they are going to be more comfortable with opening up and sharing.  This comes from peer relations, mostly.  In a brick and mortar environment, often our 6-12 grade students tend not to associate with their peers based on the clique they are in, how they look, who they hang out with, etc.  When these same students are taking an on-line course these stereotypes are taken away.  This is great for those whom often don't have a voice due to their peers deeming their opinions "are not important".  It also allows all students to look past their preconceived information about someone based on the outside and process information they are given based on what their classmates share.

Is a sense of community the greatest contributor to student success in learning online? Are there other factors that are more important?

1. It is a top contributor. Part of the being human is a desire to belong.  We need to be a member of a community to bring meaning to our lives.  This explains the many negative communities people will become part of, such as gangs.  When students feel validated and heard in an online environment they will be more successful and more willing to contribute to others success.

2. It is the greatest contributor to student success in learning.  Our students must feel connected, must see validity to our lessons and projects, and MUST know the answer to the question, "Why are we learning this?"  Building the community within the classroom, online, hybrid, or face to face must include other classrooms, the community, and the home.  We must teach our students how to work in groups for class, and for life.  Collaboration is a key factor in developing life skills, and meeting most school's ESLRS (Expected school wide learning results) that each student is supposed to be striving towards. 

3. It is one contributor to student success in an online learning environment.  There are many other factors such as technology savvy, home environment, prior subject knowledge, that contribute as well.

Thank you to Mr. David Dillon and Mrs. Kelly McAllister for contributing to this blog post, and for sharing your ideas.

Together, we can CHANGE education!

Learning to change, changing to learn

Changing Education Paradigms