Building Community in Blended Courses

Concurrent Session 4
Blended

Brief Abstract

As a professor of blended Instructional Technology courses, I have utilized several strategies to help build community in my classroom, including the use of social media, small group work, and requests for personal information.  I will present these strategies for faculty who wish to build community in blended courses.

Presenters

After graduating with my Bachelors in K-8 Education in 2006, I taught 4th and 5th grade and served as a technology leader in my building for 10 years. During this time, I earned my Masters in Instructional Technology from Austin Peay and my Ed.S. and Doctorate degrees in Educational Leadership from Union University. In 2016, I joined the faculty at Austin Peay. I currently teach Instructional Technology courses to undergraduate and graduate students. I enjoy helping teachers learn how to integrate technology into the curriculum to better serve and empower students.

Extended Abstract

Students in blended courses report a lack of community as a negative aspect of online learning. This lack of community can lead to feelings of isolation and dissatisfaction, which inhibit student success. Students seem to intrinsically recognize the value of interactions with classmates and professors, yet many blended courses do not naturally lend themselves to community building. As a professor of blended Instructional Technology courses, I have utilized several strategies to help build community in my classroom, including the use of social media, small group work, and requests for personal information on independent assignments.  I will present these strategies for faculty who wish to build community in blended courses.

First, social media networks offer professors a rich opportunity for community building. I established a private Instagram page for my class and regularly post pictures and videos of my students as well as class announcements and posts of interest. I follow my students, and many of them follow my account. Students regularly like and comment on my posts as I do theirs.

Besides Instagram,  I created a professional Twitter page and also required my students to create professional Twitter pages. We tweet using a class hashtag and participate in class Twitter chats as well as public chats.

Students have positively responded to the use of social media in our class, and I will continue exploring other platforms with my students in the coming years, including Snapchat, Periscope, and Voxer. These platforms may offer additional positive benefits for community-building in the classroom.

Besides social media, I utilize group work assignments during of our class meetings. Sometimes I group students by their desired subject area or grade level, while other times I use an online random group generator tool to mix the groups. I monitor groups closely to ensure all students are working, and students push each other to be accountable. This small group work time is highly prized among students. They learn so much from these interactions with one another. Many of them interact with individuals from backgrounds that are very different from their own. This encourages mutual respect and a sense of not only tolerance but appreciate for one another's differences. In a recent survey I gave, all of my students reported that group work was very important to them because they value the time they spend working together and learning from each other.

Finally, when my students are not in class, they have independent assignments to complete called self reflections.  These are Google docs I created with instructions about how to work toward the standards for our class.  At the beginning of online self reflection, students must share something personal with me, such as a photograph or quote. I sometimes comment directly on their assignments or speak with them during in-class meetings about what they have shared. This lets the students know I care about them, and I can sometimes integrate their interests in lessons, which they appreciate.

In conclusion, it is essential for professors to be intentional about building community in blended classes in order to ensure student success and satisfaction with the courses.  By utilizing social media, small group work, and prompts for personal information on independent work, professors can help support students’ needs for positive social interactions.