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Maintaining a Sense of Community in a Digital Classroom

Michael Nutter

May 20, 2020

Keeping students engaged is tough enough in a physical classroom — learning a few best practices can help teachers foster community in a digital classroom.

Any teacher can tell you that the classroom isn’t just a place to learn about math and science. The classroom is where students can learn how to express themselves, develop important social skills, and build connections and a community that can last a lifetime.

Aside from helping students to develop critical interpersonal skills, a strong classroom community can also improve your students’ academic achievement. When kids are engaged in class, they are more willing to learn. Fostering community in your classroom isn’t just an afterthought to your curriculum — it’s an important part of your curriculum itself. As we adjust to the present remote learning environment, teachers will need to find new ways to maintain a sense of community even from a distance.

Keeping Students Engaged During Distance Learning

With distance learning taking center stage during the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers might wonder whether maintaining a sense of community is even possible. For K-12 students, attending classes remotely generally means they are further exposed to distractions like cell phones and the internet. Such distractions have the potential to seriously threaten students’ engagement and harm any sense of community.

When students don’t feel a sense of community, distance learning can easily add a layer of separation between both students and their teachers, and between students and each other. The good news is that just because your classroom has gone digital doesn’t mean you can’t build a strong and lasting community — you simply need a new approach. To help you build connections remotely, we’ve put together some tips to keep your students active and engaged despite new hurdles.

Take the Time to Establish Focus

When class begins, you might find your students are a little distracted. That’s understandable — students no longer have a bus ride, a walk to school, or a waiting period before class to mentally transition from their home lives to their school lives. That’s why it’s so important to establish focus within your digital classroom as soon as your class period begins.

First, make sure your students have turned off their phones. If possible, try to encourage students to find a relatively quiet physical location in their home that they can designate as their remote learning spot. By minimizing distractions, you have a better chance of keeping their undivided attention during lessons.

From there, experiment to invent a daily routine that helps ensure your students have shifted into a classroom mentality. This can take the form of a unified breathing exercise, a quote of the day, round-robin reading, or any other brief activity that lets your students know they are all in the same place with a singular focus.

Encourage Participation

Another way to keep your students connected with each other and their lessons is to encourage participation as much as possible. This can help them stay engaged with the material and their peers, while also making it more likely that students will retain the information being discussed.

As such, distance learning may not be the best time for a marathon lecture. Break up your lessons with daily reflections, writing activities, or participation-based quiz games. Maybe your students can present research reports, choose projects that appeal to their unique interests, or share their opinions about classroom topics and assigned reading. Giving students more agency in their lessons can get them excited about school and provide opportunities to connect with their fellow students.

Incorporate Q&A Sessions

Maybe the most obvious way to keep your students engaged is by making sure their voices are heard by regularly answering their questions. Answering questions can help students avoid falling behind on any material they don’t understand. It can also give educators clarity on which concepts students may be struggling with.

It’s important to remember that posing questions in a digital environment may feel more intimidating or less natural for students — and without an easy way to see all of your students at once, it may be harder to pick up on visual cues that let you know they are confused. Be sure to give students an easy way to submit questions digitally, like writing them down in the chat section of a virtual classroom.

Avoid Tech Issues

Technical difficulties are the unsung villain of online teaching. There’s nothing that destroys a sense of online community more than a failed login or a stalled web browser. As soon as your digital lessons are interrupted by a technology glitch, student engagement will take a nosedive during the downtime you spend trying to fix your tech issues.

Minimizing Downtime With an IT Partner

Vinson’s QuantumSpeed Teacher Help Desk offers a straightforward way to prevent downtime due to technical difficulties. QuantumSpeed offers an on-demand teacher help desk with real-time support so that your district can avoid long IT backlogs. QuantumSpeed can help you rapidly address concerns ranging from Chromebook troubleshooting to issues with your printer, password resets, and more.

While there are real challenges that come with the transition to remote learning, we at Vinson firmly believe that technical difficulties shouldn’t be one of them. By minimizing IT issues in the digital classroom, educators can better develop a continuous sense of community that helps students adjust to remote learning in these uncertain times.

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