I just completed a graduate degree with online coursework, which was a positive experience for me overall. But I do have a confession: Some of the most significant lessons I learned did not come from the course content—but from the experience of being an online student.
Camaraderie is Essential
During the first couple of courses in my online program, I felt very much alone as I struggled to complete challenging tasks. There was no unstructured interaction with the other students. No chatting with your peers while waiting for the professor to get started. No hanging out for a few minutes after class. Were my classmates experiencing the same difficulties that I was?
Finally, I took the initiative, reaching out to classmates from all around the world, using email, Facebook, and Skype. I learned I was not alone. We shared our stories and hopes. We worked through complex assignments, providing support and encouragement for one another. Without a doubt, my work improved—and, as importantly, I could process the learning experience with others.
This experience reminded me that, as a teacher, it is vital for me to create a classroom climate that encourages this kind of camaraderie. I can’t expect students to jump into challenging activities if they feel alone. A few minutes of talking about One Direction and Minecraft can help grease the wheels for lively conversations about problem solving and literature. I’ve come to believe that my students’ learning actually benefits from “losing instructional time” to a few minutes of casual conversation or the occasional classroom party. <Read more.>