Building Memorable Online Relationships (MORe) in Virtual Environments: How Can We Do MORe?

Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

This discovery session will move the field forward by offering specific actionable items that are supported by empirical research to help develop online relationships within the virtual classroom. The content will be produced in a tutorial manner thus providing easy to follow step by step instructions for how to conduct the activity while also highlighting the theoretical and pedagogical underpinnings to help substantiate the viewer’s understanding of the key concepts included in the activity.

Presenters

Rory McGloin is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Connecticut. Professor McGloin’s research is focused on media effects. Of particular interest to Professor McGloin is the process by which individuals interact with a mediated environment and the subsequent effect of these interactions on their perceptions of certain variables such as perceived realism and immersion. In addition to this, Professor McGloin’s research has recently focused on how various control devices may be changing the way users interact with virtual environments and in turn how these devices may be impacting the users overall feelings of enjoyment and aggression. Dr. McGloin has also explored the nature of online interactions in a variety of contexts (social support, product reviews, health and social support) with a focus on perceived source credibility and he continues to do work in this area. Dr. McGloin’s work has recently been published in such journals as: Journal of Communication, Media Psychology, and Computers in Human Behavior.
Amanda Denes (Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Connecticut. Her primary area of specialization is interpersonal communication, with an emphasis on communication processes related to maintaining successful relationships. She teaches online courses on Interpersonal Communication and Gender and Communication. She extends her passion for studying interpersonal communication processes by studying ways to promote social connection in online learning environments. Her research has been published in top Communication and interdisciplinary journals. She is also co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of the Physiology of Interpersonal Communication and Associate Editor for the journal, Personal Relationships.

Extended Abstract

Summary: While the ability to effectively deliver content in onlines course can oftentimes surpass that of the face to face learning environment, building deeper and more meaningful relationships between online peer learners can pose a challenge. As such, creating and implementing tools to improve online relationship development is a worthy endeavor that can benefit both teachers and students. The topic is especially relevant to the field and timely given the multitude of courses that are currently transitioning online (either temporarily or permanently) in response to the global pandemic. If students are unable to engage in traditional campus interactions that promote peer connection, finding ways for students to connect in their virtual classrooms is even more important. 

 

Learning experiences in higher education have been described as social processes, and as such, tools aimed at promoting social interaction may be beneficial in both reinforcing course concepts and fostering student connection. The needs for maximizing student connection in online learning is greater than ever now following the short and long term adoptions of online learning even by traditionally face to face programs. Therefore, the key outcome for this discovery session is to provide attendees with theoretically-based tasks, assignments, and activities that can be easily integrated into online learning environments to help develop and sustain more meaningful and fulfilling relationships. This discovery session will move the field forward by offering specific actionable items that are supported by empirical research to help develop online relationships within the virtual classroom. Taking advantage of the discovery session format, each of the three key items (which are detailed more below) introduced during the session will be delivered in segments making it easy for attendees and audience members to consume the suggestions as they relate to their areas of interest. These best practices and applied suggestions are curated from the presenters’ experimental research on this topic as well as from their experience delivering professional development workshops on this specific topic.

 

Deliverables/Details: Our 15 minute discovery session will be broken down into 3, five-minute segments, with each segment focusing on one specific assignment/activity that can be easily integrated into any online learning course and/or platform. A Discovery Session is the most appropriate format for addressing this topic because it allows for the clear dissemination of the activities and new tools for developing online relationships, as well as opportunities for engagement and collaboration with the session attendees. Each segment will include a detailed description of the assignment/activity, as well as the theoretical rationale for why this assignment/activity will help to produce specific outcomes related to the meaningful development of online relationships between peer learners. 

 

This content is ideal for the discovery session format as it will allow the attendees to view asynchronously and pause/rewind/rewatch details of the lessons as needed. The content will be produced in a tutorial manner thus providing easy to follow step by step instructions for how to conduct the activity while also highlighting the theoretical and pedagogical underpinnings to help substantiate the viewer’s understanding of the key concepts included in the activity. We will also capitalize on the online format by actively engaging with attendees, addressing questions that arise during the presentation, and reaching out to attendees seeking additional information, assistance, and/or collaboration. In this way, the session will be interactive not only in our sharing of actionable items, but also in our engagement with attendees looking to implement the tools presented. 

 

Outline of Activities:

 

Activity 1

 

Activity title: “Setting your digital relationship norms.”

 

Description and rationale: While some online instructors and students alike will want to rely on their mental models for how interactions should and relationships should develop based on face to face experiences, it is important that instructors work with their learning community to create specific, unique, and explicit digital communication norms to help ensure everyone is working within the same set of expectations. It is necessary to recognize that digital relationships in the classroom follow different norms and expectations compared to those that are forged in face to face settings and thus the learning environment must embrace a set of specific digital norms to help these relationships flourish in the online setting. Therefore, this activity will outline how an online instructor can establish a unique set of digital norms for their classroom while also promoting buy-in from their students during the process. Digital norm formation can be an interactive and fun experience; and when the students feel empowered by the process by which the norms were set, it increases the likelihood they will do their part to follow the norms. This activity will outline a step by step process of setting digital norms to be utilized at the beginning of a new course/semester or whenever the cohort has a significant shift in goals/purpose.

 

Activity/Assignment 2

 

Activity title: “Forging (fast) friendships through vocal channels.”

 

Description and rationale: One approach to fostering connection beyond text-based modalities online involves assignments that require vocal connection, such as through the use of multi-media channels (e.g. Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts) or through mobile phones. Connecting students using vocal channels may help foster immediacy behaviors, which can help increase stimulation as well as decrease the psychological distance between individuals. Immediacy behaviors are positively associated with efficacy to achieve one’s goals; thus, promoting immediacy and connection via vocal channels may help improve learning outcomes. Indeed, online learning is most satisfying and successful in environments that promote engagement and collaboration, thereby fostering a social presence online. Therefore, this activity will provide a step by step demonstration of how to utilize phone calls, text message, and video-calling between students via a“fast friendship” task. The demonstration will help instructors identify the best channel for their student audiences, and walk them through the use of the fast friendship task. This demonstration will also highlight a few ways to scale the activity up or down depending on the maturity of the student audience. This activity is based on theories of relationship development, which will be briefly noted and reviewed for the attendees as a means of offering a theoretical perspective on the value of integrating this activity into the online course.

 

Activity/Assignment 3
 

Activity title: “Establishing relational share points.”

 

Description and rationale: The aim of the final activity is to employ a goal-centered approach to digital relationships by emphasizing the value of setting relational goals between peers in online learning environments. Based on theoretical models of relational development and theories of relational goal-setting, this demonstration will walk attendees through a task that students can use to establish shared meaning as to what constitutes a successful online classmate relationship. Attendees will learn the key markers of different stages of relationship development and be presented with a task that helps students work in pairs or teams to identify the behaviors, or “share points”, that would help them know they are progressing through the stages of relationship development. The task will also focus on setting goals for relationship development among peers and working with students groups/pairs to find ways to meet their online classmates' relationship-building needs.

Outcome and Implications: Following this discovery session, attendees should be able to integrate each of these activities into their future online learning communities. The integration of the norm setting activity should help produce more effective and efficient communication, stronger relationships (both peer to peer and student to learner), as well as less frustration due to expectations (norms) being unmet or violated. The integration of the fast friendship activity should provide an explicit way to help students connect and share critical nonverbal cues while also forging relationships with their learning peers. Finally, the integration of the relational share points activity should help students learn how to manage and sustain online relationships, including those in a professional setting, a critical skill for the next generation of learners as they head out into a workforce dominated by virtual workspaces.