Fostering community and relationships in an online class is important. It’s also challenging. And, while I’m sure I can do better, I am always working on it. I began the semester by having students post an intro on Flip Grid. My initial thought was that I would really get into the groove of Flip Grid this semester and play with it. But I have a lot of new stuff going on so that hasn’t happened yet. However, it was nice for the initial activity where we all introduced ourselves. I think it’s important to be able to see each other at least once!
Recently, I realized that every week I was emailing one or two students. Usually this is because I wanted to let them know something positive about their work. Once I noticed this I stepped back and thought about it. Who was getting emails? Was I emailing some more than others? Was I not emailing some people at all? See, while we do have a discussion board on our LMS (more about that in a future post), I think that personal interactions are important. Students need, and they deserve, a note from us now and then. We should check in with them, and see how things are going.
While I think such notes are useful in any context, I do believe they are necessary in an online context. It is an important step to forming relationships and letting students know we are thinking of them. I don’t force these emails. But I am starting to keep track of who is, and who is not getting them.
Tracking who gets a personal message is as simple as creating a spreadsheet with your roll. Just put an X next to the name when you send the email out. Now, it’s not that I won’t email someone again unless everyone has gotten an email. I will. However, I want to make sure I am being mindful about my interactions. I don’t want to leave anyone out. I have something I can say to everyone about their work, and it is always helpful to solicit feedback and learn how the course is going for people.
Because I don’t get to see my students in person, I am finding these emails to be useful side conversations off the main discussion board. I learn more about what they are working on, what their interests are, and what is working for them in the class. I learn more about the support they need, and I learn more about how I can interact with them in ways that are going to help them learn.
So, how do you make connections and foster relationships with your students, particularly in online classes?