Connections in Online Courses
Developing connections in online courses is essential for student engagement and success. The three relationships essential to online courses are connections between students and the instructor, students’ connections with the course content, and students’ connections with each other. In this post, we will discuss the last type of connection and focus on one particular strategy for promoting interaction and community.
Promoting Student-to-Student Connections
In face-to-face courses, students interact with each other before, during, and after class. In the online classroom, peer connections that may have developed more organically in person must be cultivated intentionally. Whether an online course is synchronous or asynchronous, the instructor must plan and implement or promote opportunities for students to connect with each other.
Some strategies for promoting student-student connections in online courses include icebreaker activities during class discussions, encouraging interaction on discussion boards, assigning group work, utilizing Blackboard Group tools, employing breakout rooms for small group work in synchronous sessions, and using technology tools such as social media platforms to promote student communication.
Course-related activities like discussion boards, group work, and breakout sessions are a great way to promote student-student and student-content connections. However, to foster deeper student-student connections, encourage students to take ownership of their communication, particularly outside the course. Social media offers students the opportunity to forge connections on their own terms, creating relationships and a sense of community that could extend beyond just one online class.
Social Media Platforms
Myriad options for social media platforms exist for students to connect with each other about your course outside of the course. Encourage students to choose their own social media tool (whatever works for them). Social media options you could propose to your students for creating peer connections for your online course and beyond include: Discord, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, and more.
In addition to encouraging students to use social media channels among themselves, you could also use social media within your course. For example, you could create a class hashtag for students to use when posting publicly about your class. You could also create a social media group for students to join (voluntarily) so that they can pose questions about course materials or due dates. Similarly, you could use group chatting on social media as an avenue for students to ask and answer questions.
Ideally, students should take ownership over the social media opportunities they cultivate with their classmates. Faculty should remain as hands-off as possible to allow students to create genuine connections. For example, if a class assignment or extra credit opportunity uses the class hashtag, limit your involvement to checking that specific assignment. If students create a group chat or hashtag on their own, faculty should allow them autonomy and privacy.
When used effectively and intentionally, social media can be a useful tool for fostering a sense of community among students in online courses. Before using or encouraging students to use any social media platform, carefully consider your goals and protect your students’ privacy (FERPA).
Illinois CITL. (n.d.). Student connections: Fostering student-to-student connections. Illinois online course-in-a-box. https://citl.illinois.edu/citl-101/online-strategy-development/develop-or-revise-an-online-course/online-course-in-a-box/teaching-online/student-connections/fostering-student-to-student-connections
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Western Washington University. (2020, September 18). Tips for using social media in compliance with FERPA. FERPA Toolkit. https://www.wwu.edu/teachinghandbook/resources_support/ferpa_toolkit.shtml#tips