How Do You Make Connections To Your Students Via Online Learning

Creating and communicating community is key to successfully teaching online learning. This guide can help you set it up.

Welcome to the Unsigned Column, where we share some unsolicited advice from a middle school science teacher.

When I was in middle school in 1957, I remember the routine that usually took place in each class — I was in 7th grade. We’d each close the session with a brief piece of advice for any new classmates that might attend the next class. After a few weeks, it became recognizable to me as the “1WALK to STAR101” activity. One way to describe this was to say that “she pulled three chords and threw the occasional string out.” One of the few games I remember playing was Lumberjack, and I was also pretty good at two rounds of Wigglebone. That was also my school’s only game of Tic Tac Toe and Paper Toss. In the next school year, a long term extension of the 1WALK to STAR101 activity was put into practice by Mr. O’Conner, my biology teacher. Each week, he had students review how they performed the last test and write down how they learned the material. Then each student sat at the computer and again developed an activity for analyzing one or more parts of that test. He sent these activities over to the students’ parents (if they could afford it), encouraging them to invite the student for a computer session. Over the years, this activity not only maintained continuity with the previous year’s curriculum, but has made such a positive impression on my students that they have received automated transcripts of each test.

Ultimately, the need to “bridge” students to the digital world of education came to me after observing how students would “break away” from the digital world when they had homework or exams.

“Only a handful of students in years past have taken the work from a textbook, created something, and passed it off to another student … Now, I wonder, did they take the test and leave? If so, I must conclude that they are ‘ghosts,’ skirting the paper-based world.” – Mr. Grigg

What does this mean for students today?

Once we feel as though we have most of our subject knowledge and skills down, why are we going back to multiple choice assessment and paper based testing? It doesn’t make sense to me. This “creates opportunity” for teachers to create something more efficient and immersive, and more engaging for students.

Teachers are increasingly frustrated with the pace of digital learning. We are trying to make connection with students. In a world where millions of students are attending private schools, attending huge virtual high schools and online institutions where results are measured with gazillions of tests. Add to this the challenge of providing a personal experience for each student as a follow-up to giving them a prep course.

I’ve noticed that the younger generations are struggling to capture the rich student memory of a print book, a handwritten note or an artifact from the past. This is changing. This is what technology has made possible and what we can use to connect more with students and embed a deep sense of connection to them. I encourage all future educators to utilize technology to make the connection with their students.

There is no substitute for social interaction and a sense of human connection. Social media is a way for students to communicate with one another but it’s not enough. Social media, even when it’s all positive, is not a substitute for human interaction and the deep human feeling for connection. In the end, some connection to the material is good. But sometimes more human interaction and ‘content’ is needed.

In conclusion, don’t become a “ghost.” Humans do live on a physical planet, and we do live in a digital world. With that said, don’t let technology be the only way you connect with your students. Engage with them. Don’t hide from them. It’s important that everyone has an opportunity to connect and build connections through these “now” connections — through digital, paper, print, classroom interaction, live discussion, online. Connecting on a basic human level is an important part of what we do.

Are you concerned about the disconnect from your students? Can you motivate them to be engaged in your school? What do you do when you are not able to connect and maintain the connection? Are you teaching the standards of your school, or are you teaching your “customers,” the students, how to use the internet effectively?

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