Online learning comes with plenty of benefits, but for all of its benefits, online learning can feel isolating to those involved simply because there is not a lot of interactions. The question is, then, how do you create a sense of community for the online class? One way to do this is to cultivate interactions between you and your students and the students themselves. Let’s look at a few practical ways to increase the interaction in your online classroom.
Integrate Real Interaction
If your online class is asynchronous, there won’t be a lot of interaction between you and the students. For example, you won’t have any real-time conversations during your video lecture, when you share announcements, or when your students post something on a discussion board. The lag in the response time will kill the momentum within the conversation and can cause misunderstandings.
When you add in chances for real-time interaction into your class, it can help change that and create a better sense of community. Think about the impromptu nature of conversations and how they help to forge relationships, spark insights, and clarify ideas. You can help this to happen by setting up a chance for the students in your class to meet online together so that they can have an actual conversation. Web-conference applications are best for this. You can create many different synchronous interaction opportunities, like study groups, whole-class discussions, small group discussions, and office hours.
Discussion boards have long been used as a way to communicate online, but there are some ways where you can make this experience more interactive for more participation. In the traditional class, it’s common for a small number of your students to take part in the discussion. With an online environment, you can build the discussion so that everybody takes part, plus they will have more time to think about what they are going to say before they respond. You can also adjust the number of students that participate in each discussion, especially if you have a larger class.
One way to foster a richer dialogue is to create open-ended prompts, like asking your students to provide examples or ask them to interpret a concept from different perspectives. You may want to set up a student-facilitated discussion opportunity where they can talk about the prompt and guide the dialogue.
Maximize Engagement Through Non-Task Interaction
Non-task interactions are any type of exchange that is not connected to your lesson but will help to form a supportive learning environment. This can be facilitated by leveraging social networking capabilities that you have in many learning management systems. When you use group functionality, students can come up with study groups or special interest groups. If the LMS doesn’t have these types of things, you can create one using a private Facebook page or using any other type of group messaging app that is out there.
It’s important to understand that these types of networks will require planning and maintenance. The value of it needs to be explicit before it becomes a common destination for your students. There are a lot of schools that will start out by asking students to add profile pictures and create bios, but these types of activities alone are not going to encourage your students to keep coming back and use it as it was intended to be used. Find ways to get them to want to come back to update content frequently, either weekly or daily, and incorporating contributions to the network into your class.
Create a Virtual Bitmoji Classroom
There is a trend happening among virtual teachers, and that is to create a Bitmoji classroom using Google. This is a way to get your students interacting more, and it’s fun for them, so let’s look at how to do it.
You are going to need three things. The Bitmoji extension for Chrome, the Remove. Bg website, and a black PowerPoint or Google Slides file.
- Open up the blank slide or PowerPoint.
If you would like to use Agenda or Google Meet slide, or something that is similar, then you can keep its default dimensions and just move on down to the second step.
To create a header, you will need to set the dimensions to 1000 x 250 pixels by heading to File > Page Setup in Google Slides or Design > Page Setup in PowerPoint. Just so that you know, when you add a banner to a Google Classroom, you are going to find that it has a dark overlay on the image. It has to do with accessibility, and it can’t be changed, so remember that and just try to make everything as bright as you can.
When you are making a Google homepage, keep the dimensions around 15 ix X 8 in.
- Collect the images.
The next thing you need to do is to collect the images for that scene you are going to make. You can use some posters from ECHO-LIT, as well as Google Images. When using Google Images, you will want to use the “labeled for reuse” filter, which we will go over in a minute. If you choose to use something like ECHO-LIT, you may want to reach out for permission to use the images just to be on the safe side.
When looking for images for the background, try searches for “wall,” “a wood floor,” or you can do “wall floor,” which gives you an image that gives you the two combined. To get the Bitmoji in Google Slides, you are going to have to download the Bitmoji Chrome extension. Then open up the Bitmoji extension on your browser, and then pick out whichever one you would like and then drag and drop it onto the slide. If you are using a PowerPoint to create your image, pick the extension, right-click the image of your Bitmoji that you would like, and then choose to save the image to your computer. Then you will be able to use the insert image tool on PowerPoint to add the Bitmoji.
A search tip for Google Images; to make your image search go a little smoother, there are a few filters that you can make use of. When you filter your results, you are going to be able to find the photos that you want a lot faster than if you were just searching through page after page of random images. It can be helpful if you also teach your students how to use these filters as well.
Head to Google images and choose tools. This is going to give you various filter dropdowns. To filter out any copyrighted images you can use the reuse label, choose Usage Rights > Labeled for reuse. It may be very tempting to just use any image that you find without thinking about it, but this could end up causing a copyright problem. Plus, you wouldn’t want to make your students think it is okay to do that?
If you are looking for a specific color, click on a color and choose the one you want.
To get pictures with transparent backgrounds, click Color > Transparent background. If you are unable to find an image that your life that fits this, that’s fine. You can use the remove.bg website to get rid of the background.
To use the website, you will save an image and then go to Remove.bg. Choose Upload Image, and then your background will be magically gone. You might have to do a bit more adjusting to get rid of certain parts of the scene that is missed. If you need to do this, choose edit below the original photo.
- Make your scene.
Once you have found your background and some images you want to use, you can start to create your own virtual scene.
When you are resizing the pictures, make sure you resize from the corners of the selected image. This will help to maintain the width and height proportions of the picture. If you try to use tops and sides, the dimension won’t stay proportionate.
To layer your picture below another, right-click and then choose Order > Send to back on Google Sides, or you can right-click and choose Back when using PowerPoint.
- Add some interactive links.
Some people stop at just the scene, but some teachers have taken these up a level by adding in interactive links. Since we are talking about interaction, that’s what you are going to want to do. Adding an interactive link on a certain image is a fun way to create scavenger hunts, virtual libraries, and more.
To link an object, simply click on one of the images that you would like to link to, and then press Ctrl + K, when using Google Slides, or right-click > Hyperlink in PowerPoint. Then you can paste the destination link, and you are all set.
Some may ask what the point is behind creating a Bitmoji classroom. There are many reasons why you should create a virtual classroom, but the short answer is that they are a fun, visual way to display information. Here are a few different ways you can use your Bitmoji classroom.
You can use it to create your daily agenda slide. Write out an overview of each day’s assignment on the classroom whiteboard. This will provide your students with one source to reference every day without the need to scroll through the Classwork or Stream page. You can also link specific Google Classroom assignments so that your students can click on it so that it takes them to the assignment.
You can make a virtual library. You can add links to book talks and read-aloud, as well as other library resources, like the library catalog.
You can make a resource hub. This will link your students to important information and resources, like the syllabus.
It can be your Zoom or Google Meet waiting screen. Display some important reminders, attendance questions, or an overview of the virtual class at the start of your class. All you do is open the slides in Presentation mode and then present your screen so that your students will see it as they come in. It can also be used to announce office hours.