Building an Online Community 

Making Online Learning Personal

The Davidson Academy’s Online instructors build their virtual “teacher presence” in order for students to feel connected to them, as if they were in the same physical classroom. When asked what methods instructors use to accomplish this goal, they shared a variety of approaches.

Sharing Interests

I make time during live sessions to talk about the things we do outside of school, like hobbies and interests. This helps the students to see me as a real human.

Use a Profile Picture

I find it important to include a headshot on the profile of every account that I use to interact with students. Seeing a blank profile pic creates an immediate reaction that the person one is dealing with is part of the void of the internet rather than a real living human being. Using an avatar instead of your face implies that you're not open with them or don't trust them.

Convenient Communication

I respond quickly and send "text-style" messages. I prefer to message my students through Microsoft Teams (online chat/message boards), because it allows for a free flow of conversation that isn't possible through email. We don't have to worry about properly formatting our communications as letters; rather, we just speak back and forth easily the same as people who are texting each other. This also allows for the use of images, gifs, and emojis, which is an effective way to create more emotional connections in online communications.

Sharing Interests

In a brick-and-mortar, the teacher doesn't just walk into the room the second the bell rings, and neither should we. I open up our online classroom at least 15 minutes early so that students have the opportunity to chat among themselves and with me. These casual pre-class conversations are essential to forming meaningful relationships.

Keep Track of Student Interest

Students know when a teacher doesn't really care about who they are as a person. So we need to care. If a student mentions something they are passionate about or somethings that is meaningful to them, remember it...even if you have to write it down. For example, nearly all of our students are big Harry Potter fans, so I made a point to post the new "Fantastic Beasts" trailer to our Team and we talked about it before class so that we could all geek out together over young Dumbledore.

I'm Never Off the Clock

If I'm out-and-about and see something that reminds me of my students or what we've been discussing in class, I take a second to let them know! For example, last week I was at Lowe's and the guy who was helping us had a tattoo from the same Poe story that we were reading that week in one of my classes. I asked him if I could take a photo to show my students, and then I posted the photo to our class Team with a "Hey everyone! Look what I just saw!" Little things like this that show you listen, and care about them and the class go a long way.

Music Sets the Mood

I play music during passing time in building (sometimes trying to tie into the time/era that we are learning about or just upbeat Motown music). I do the same thing with the online students. About five minutes before class begins, I start playing music so they come into an upbeat learning environment.