I’ve titled this ‘Interactions in a Digital Landscape’ to highlight how both I interact with the students in my classroom, but also how I have students interact with one another online. The thing about this is, that I find this both simplistic and extremely complex and challenging as a topic. It is simple in the fact that, as teachers we communicate with students online all the time, through Google Classroom (or various other LMS), using Edsby (messaging and gradebook), and email among other platforms like Flip or Padlet.
The complex and challenging side, well, student engagement. This can be because that online community or sense of community is lacking, or many of us as teachers I’m sure have had that group of students that just don’t like to talk. In addition, how to create that balance of online communication in a situation where there is a need for sensitivity, complex understanding, or even relevance.
The thing is, that it is incredibly challenging to ALWAYS have interactions that are meaningful, supportive, engaging and relevant. Sometimes we have tangents, sometimes it doesn’t quite hit the depth that we were hoping for, sometimes either the resource or the content isn’t getting the point across as intended, and sometimes it feels like no one has taken the meaning that was hoped for either. Phew, sometimes, the bar feels far too high. I find this is much like what Bates said, “Students see the discussions as optional or extra work, because they have no direct impact on grades or assessments.” (4.4.1) Students don’t always see the VALUE of the discussion and don’t participate because of this. But, should participation in discussion always be evaluated in some way or other in order to have students working towards co-constructing knowledge with idea generation and synthesis of concepts? I’ve taken a few lessons from the article: “When you get nothing but crickets” including: show of hands (or on a scale of 1-5 using your fingers), more think-pair-shares, better checks for understanding by asking more focused questions.
However, the thing about having a community of inquiry within the classroom is that students can work on co-constructing knowledge independently, and this can happen quite naturally. I often provide a task to students and they problem solve on their own to co-construct a document, use editing, chat features, and other features like coloured fonts to work together on getting the task done. Bates discusses having students collaboratively engage in purposeful critical discourse and reflection to construct personal meaning and confirm mutual understanding. (4.4.3) This helps to develop new ideas and new knowledge for the students. This is most effective through discussion organized by the teacher as outlined by the Community of Inquiry model pictured below.
As a Social Studies teacher, one of the key components to getting good discussion and interactions is: good questions, get good answers. The inquiry method is fantastic in a blended classroom. As the teacher, I often work on modeling my question asking skills, but also the question answering skills too. This helps to guide students in not only how to answer questions, because we often focus on how to provide good answers or the right answers, but in how to develop the right questions to find those answers. So when it comes time for students to perform, we present the topic, goal, technology, expectations and the orientation and prep ahead of time is already done. By being a presence in the room, or online in the platform, we help to ensure success in performance and behaviour.
In future, I hope to include some of the ideas presented by The K. Patricia Cross Academy in my blended classroom. Having students share their work online, using more digital collaborative learning techniques like jigsaws and paper seminars, online study groups, and having students interact at the same time online. All of these ideas, as guided activities are very appealing to me.
Developing a community in the online world is aided by a sense of community in the physical classroom. So much of this comes down to the comfort level which students feel with their teacher and their peers. A rapport with students helps them to be able to respond to me as the teacher but also to the content placed in front of them. As it was said by Bates, there is little difference between a well-run online learning environment to a face-to-face classroom.