We know that teacher immediacy and creating learning communities is essential for any successful and positive educational experience. Students may wonder—is my teacher interested in my life? does my teacher have a vested interest in my success? are my assignment good enough? do I feel like I am part of this class and that my presence matters?
But what does teacher immediacy and community look like in a blended learning environment or even in a fully online, asynchronous course? How do we make sure that all our students, who we root for passionately, know that we are still there cheering them on and trying to protect and inspire them in the world of ones and zeros?
In her blog, Rebecca Heiser (2019) notes that teacher immediacy is defined by Wiener and Mehrabian (1968) as “non-verbal and verbal queues and the psychological distance between the communicator and recipient,” which means that it is our job as teachers to make students feel like they are, figuratively, sitting on a beanbag in our virtual classrooms able to be seen and heard even when they are at home with headsets, on a videoconference call, or working in Moodle, Schoology or Microsoft Classrooms. They are physically far away, but should feel as though they are able to pop into our rooms and share a moment of their day, happy or difficult, and that we will be there with joy or comfort, that they can ask a question and we will help guide them to an answer, that they still can communicate with their peers and collaborate in our classroom communities. As mentioned in Engaging the Online Learner: Activities and Resources for Creative Instruction, “…experienced online instructors have found that interaction is actually the essence of the course” (pg. 8). As teachers, we must come up with ways to make our students feel like we are right there even when we cannot be and that students’ peers are still their community and fellow collaborators.
So how do teachers create a community and make our presence known in an online educational setting? How do we use technology to bring us together even as we are asked to social distance and remain apart? Like everything in education, making a connection to our students is the foremost priority.
One of the most important findings in online educational research is the importance of making our students feel that their teachers are immediately available even though that is not always feasible. Here are some introductory best practices (found through multiple sources listed at the end of this post) that I have used in my own online teaching and can be great starting points:
1.Respond as soon as possible to submissions, emails, and texts, but give a timeframe to accommodate your own time and needs. For example, “I will respond to your emails within 24 hours and I will respond to your assignment submissions within 3 days.”
2.Create discussion forums, but do not feel the need to respond to every student. Instead, respond to a couple of different students in each forum, but respond deeply and thoroughly with comments, guiding questions, and outside resources. Students will see your presence and know that you are thinking about their answers but responding will not overwhelm you. Ask students to do the work and respond to classmates as well so that everyone is getting feedback and creating community at the same time.
3.Brainstorm virtually using chat boxes in synchronous videoconference situation or use shared documents or the top lines of discussion forums to answer and then be able to quickly review student ideas in asynchronous online course situations.
4.Give feedback using a variety of tools and methods. For example, try a short video answer to student questions. Use images that might help students understand a written explanation or to invite conversation. Record audio feedback so that students can hear tone and inflection. And of course, rely on text with email, and when it makes sense, set up a videoconference for more difficult or lengthy “in person” conversations.
5.Have set “office hours” where any student can meet you in a webinar during that time but let students know that they may end up meeting in a group. Set up separate individual conferencing sessions for more serious conversations and invite parents and guardians to join in.
6.Create spaces for students to just talk and be themselves but guide their chatter with some questions about the topics they are learning in classes or have conversations about events that they are still engaged in like music, sports, or clubs. Help students have productive conversations and share about their lives like they might done in person before class, in hallways, or when they stopped by to talk between classes.
7.Set up group work with spaces like break-out rooms in Zoom. Mix and match the groupings or pairings.
8.Create shared documents or Wikis, perhaps even a blog or an online school newspaper where students create the news and stories that are important to them.
9.Create collaborative projects that feel like real-world experiences where students can use videoconferencing to showcase talents and creativity.
10.Create safe social media spaces where students can collaborate and share projects that they have completed as well as share ideas and help one another when they get stuck on an assignment or project.
All these ways of communicating help create online community through teacher immediacy that make us feel like a whole that is working together again and gives us opportunities to be heard and seen in our digital lives.
Conrad, R-M., & Donaldson, J. (2011) Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.
Heiser, R. (2019, February 19) Social presence expectations in distance education. Retrieved from https://sites.psu.edu/rebeccaheiser/2019/02/19/social-presence-expectations-in-distance-education/
Ko, S., & Rossen, S. (2010) Teaching online: A practical Guide. New York, NY: Routledge.
Mattson, K. (2017) Digital citizenship in action: Empowering students to engage in online communities. Portland, OR: International Society for Technology in Education.
Rice, K. (2012) Making the move to k-12 online teaching: Research-based strategies and practices. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
By: Christina McGee, CA BOCES Learning Resources