Building community without borders

Building community without borders

What forms of student/student-instructor interactions do you plan to implement in your course prototype (e.g. LMS forums, Flipgrid, blog comments/pingbacks, hashtags, video chats, etc.)? What justification can you provide for choosing these forms of student interaction? What guidelines or assessment practices will you adopt to ensure that interactions are meaningful, supportive, engaging, and relevant?

This week’s asynchronous class included practical videos and readings to help prepare us for the creation of our class prototypes. The videos by Michael Wesch provide useful tips and tricks to make high quality (and low budget) instructional videos. Above this, his raw honesty about his struggle to be in front of the camera is refreshing-not all of us shine in that kind of spotlight. I can relate to this a lot as I can get pretty nervous speaking in front of people, camera or not. I mentioned this to my husband and he said “…but you’re a teacher…” Yes, I’m aware. But talking to a group of adults is more difficult than talking to 13 year olds if you do it long enough. And even then, just because I’ve become used to it doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with it.

In terms of student/student-instructor interactions, my major focus is designing my course so that the students with exceptionalities do not feel like they are in some sort of separate “group” as much as possible. I’ve based my learner personas on the most recent class I taught, which was during the 2022-2023 school year. While I consider this to be the best class I taught in my career, it did not come without its challenges, which I don’t imagine is surprising to a group of educators. Even with the large majority of my students working at grade level quite independently, the handful of students who needed unique types of additional support was difficult to plan for and manage. I think that having an LMS like Canvas, designed specifically for education, is going to be a major asset and support in bridging some of the gaps I witnessed and experienced last year.

Canvas is a brand new LMS to me, but as I peruse the platform, I have come across a couple of potential tools for interaction, both of which I plan to use in my course. They include a discussion section where the facilitator can post a discussion topic and students can comment, like, etc. The benefit of this is that even with students who are working at a lower grade level, and perhaps not completing the same assignments/tasks as the rest of the group, I can tailor the questions so they relate to a broader context and everyone can participate in the discussion.

Another section in the Canvas courses is something called collaborations, which appears to be the equivalent of a Google Doc or working document of some kind. The nice thing about this feature is that it exists right in the LMS platform. While this isn’t a unique feature just to Canvas, it is handy that students don’t have to navigate far if they are working in groups, some of which are completing the coursework from outside the classroom.

Another interactive method I plan to use in my course is assigning video blogs in which students can respond and hopefully carry on a discussion about. My justification for doing this is that traditionally, and even still today in middle/upper elementary especially, math is typically a subject where students work independently. You don’t see a ton of group math projects or reflections on math questions. Until more recently with methods like Peter Liljedahl’s Building Thinking Classrooms, deploying these types of lessons would have probably gotten some strange looks from people passing by wondering why you aren’t doing math the “normal” way. While I’m still a bit of a traditionalist at heart in this area and have fond memories of how I learned (and loved) math, I think it’s tough to argue that collaborating and connecting with classmates even in this typically isolating subject area is not beneficial for learners. In this course, students will have the opportunity to JAM (Journal About Math), video blog, and communicate with one another about their thoughts, ideas, struggles, and suggestions, hopefully creating a sense of comradery as they learn that many students have similar thoughts and feelings to them, or perhaps something a classmate explains helps to foster an understanding or way of thinking they didn’t have before.

So how will I implement guidelines so these things actually happen? I think my best bet will be setting the stage right away with the insistence that this course will be different than what they’re probably used to in math. Following some tips from this blog from The Innovative Instructor, I will have students create and post introductory videos of themselves, even if they are taking the class fully in person. This will serve as their “practice post” in the walkthrough lesson of Canvas so they have a chance to use the discussion feature before the actual math course begins. During this introductory lesson, I’ll also emphasize the importance of collaboration, explaining to students that commenting and posting vlogs is not just “extra” to the actual math assignments – it’s a central part to this method of inquiry, collective, constructivist learning. We are learning with each other, from each other, for each other.

Working the criteria of engaging with the course into assignment rubrics will also be helpful. Canvas has a a built-in rubric feature, and co-creating them with students will help collectively decide on expectations for interactions.

There is a lot to think about when designing a blended course, a lot of moving parts. As I embark on the module design process in this new (to me) LMS, I imagine I’ll think of/stumble upon other ideas for student interaction. I wish I was teaching right now to be able to implement it in my classroom and be able to evaluate it, but I suppose that will just have to wait.

2 thoughts on “Building community without borders

  1. I enjoyed reading your blog post and wishing I would have tried using canvas for my online math course. Sounds like you have a good lead on how you will get your students to communicate and collaborate through your LMS. I will need to create a rubric (similar to you) for online discussions/communication, etc. I am struggling with what criteria I will use… have you thought about this yet?

  2. You are right – I doubt people typically think about blogging or collaborating when it comes to math (at least for old-school learners like myself!) I wish you were working now, so we could hear how this turns out. 🙂 My youngest daughter struggles with math, and she feels like she is the only one. Something like this might help her feel more relaxed, and take comfort in that others may have the same questions. Collaborations might help her learn better than the traditional ways of teaching. And make it more interesting as well. Also, Canvas sounds amazing!

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