How Do Students Relate To Other Students In An Online Learning Environment

How do students relate to other students in an online learning environment?

There are two universal truths when it comes to college students. The first is that they are all smart, and the second is that they are also incredibly social. What has always confused me is why students cling to the Internet in the first place. Don’t they ever want to get away from it?

Well, apparently, they do. Online learning has replaced traditional brick-and-mortar college classrooms as the classroom of the 21st century. Before that happens, though, we need to figure out how students actually behave in this new environment. Here are some factors that are likely to influence their behavior.

Students underlined

I get that the Internet opens up exciting new opportunities for learning and giving people a voice. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I spent my college career hearing a large portion of my classmates argue about the minutiae of what they wanted from a relationship with me and with each other. All of it was completely automated, all of it offered by bots or video tutorials. The more virtual the simulated relationship, the less interesting the discussions would become. It actually does take a huge amount of computing power to be able to do the entire conversation from start to finish, a task that those of us who have spent our lives with the real human beings now occupy. Humans communicate by using facial expressions and vocal inflections to relay their tone of voice, their attitude and their perception of what is being said. That’s why it is so fascinating to observe students take notes and approach task on a physical piece of paper, making use of the actual map of the organization. Then of course you have the occasional interactive look-it-out-there, doing-it-yourself type, most of whom are so incompetent at keeping up with even the most basic of interaction, that they enter their names and places of residence into every single address field.

Similarly, I lived through a fantastic online class in which every single student wrote something interesting and compelling on the screen and someone cared about their opinion. Teachers and fellow students instantly began talking about what the course actually taught, exchanging impressions and ideas about the overall theory. I literally remember thinking, “Wow, this is totally cool!” If you don’t work for that kind of interactive involvement, they’re not gonna do it.

Transitioning their spaces

Sometimes all that online media builds on itself and information bubbles that the young can’t help but feel, develop and have fun with. They use their online spaces for how they act and what they share, generally not what they learn.

Griefers mumble’s after a breakup. Skeptics express skepticism when discussing the tenures of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Jazz musicians perform in rhythm and move alongside each other. All of these types of learned behaviors—and they are learned behaviors—become apparent and a part of who students are. At some point they become what we call, “snap judgments.” They start picking up the idioms of other self-centered individuals and start taking what is talked about online as fact. Those are simply my experiences as a student. What about yours?

Avoiding self-censorship

When students take a class online and focus on learning, they must navigate this relatively new space with their own unique perspectives and attitudes. The majority of students—some 70% in my graduate program—often excuse and even discourage students who voice opinions online that don’t support the way they wish to live. Students worry about the professors’ or the administration’s reaction to their viewpoint. They don’t want to seem “un-college.” Then there’s the irritating need to feel you are safe being smart. Students constantly self-censor themselves by deleting bits of text, maybe even entire posts. This is wrong because they are risking their agency and empathy when they engage in virtual conversations. Discomfort can be part of learning and self-reliance. If you see an opportunity for education and can get away with it, do it. The alternative is a bad memory.

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