Building a sense of community and belonging is important in both online and in-person classrooms. Teaching is a profession that is rooted in communication and fostering relationships with one another. Furthermore, it is these two key concepts that are fundamental to building a sense of classroom community. More importantly, “establishing community helps a group of learners bond and work together [which] is particularly important in online courses given the potential for students to feel isolated and alone” (6 Strategies for Building Community in Online Courses, Barkley).
In a blended classroom setting, teachers are fortunate because we have time with our students in class and face-to-face to work on establishing a strong classroom community that can then trickle into the online component of our blended course. Educators take time in planning well-thought-out lessons and hand-picking activities that will not only let them meet curricular objectives but also help students connect while strengthening the classroom community. Lessons and activities are well-organized and have a purpose. Teachers provide opportunities for meaningful discussions to take place where students can ask for clarification, learn from one another, interact with each other, and further their learning. Moreover, Bates emphasizes that “discussions need to be well organized by the teacher, and the teacher needs to provide the necessary support to enable the development of ideas and the construction of new knowledge for the students” (Teaching in a Digital Age). Additionally, Bates references appropriate technology, clear guidelines for student online behaviour, student orientation/preparation, clear goals, appropriate topics, appropriate “tone”/requirements for discussions, monitoring/responding accordingly, and instructor presence as principles that can lead to successful online discussions.
For my blended course prototype, I thought long and hard about what I could provide for my kiddos to engage in building online interactions and discussions. Grade 2 and Grade 3 students are not always the most fluent and capable of expressing themselves in French. The language and lack of vocabulary can make online interactions (writing activities) a daunting task for some students. At this grade level in French Immersion, it is much easier at times, and given the content, to express themselves orally rather than in writing. For this reason, I chose to incorporate weekly Flip activities for my students to encourage online interactions/discussions. I enjoy Flip as a tool to organize, facilitate, and monitor discussions with my students for various reasons that coordinate with Bates’ principles for successful online discussions. For starters, I love that I can provide my prompt through a video as well as in writing; the video option works really well for my students that might be struggling with reading/writing because they can just listen to me read and explain the weekly prompt (it also works well if I want to provide examples). When preparing the prompt, I can make sure I have picked relevant/appropriate topics and I can make sure that I have explained the requirements for these online interactions with my students. Students can comment on classmates’ posts/submissions and provide little reactions in the form of an “Emoji” if they are not able to write a response; I can also comment on students’ submissions and provide feedback. Moreover, I need to approve all posts and comments before they become visible on our class forum which allows me to monitor our discussions and respond accordingly. I believe Flip to be an excellent tool to use with our younger students that allows them to build an online presence as well as an online classroom community in a safe and structured environment.