The articles by James Morris and Flower Darby (particularly that section of her work on “ten principles of online learning”) both focus on the importance of creating a community among students online.
I begin planning for each face-to-face class by focusing on the readings and the goals for the course: the information I want to convey, the understanding that I want to give students about the material, and the “takeaways”–because I don’t expect them to remember everything–that I want them to have from the material. Is a course on the French Revolution, for example, really relevant to their lives? Of course it is, and aspects of it become more or less relevant according to contemporary history and what we are living now. We see people rising up against injustice, and we look at what provides the spark for that; we see extremist, take-no-prisoners politics in action; we see the turn, with relief, to an authoritarian strongman. I don’t make direct comparisons in the classroom to present-day events, but students often do in the course of discussion. And essentially, what I want to convey is that history is not about the quaint ways and isolated figures of the past, but rather a way of studying social structures and patterns and passions.
I let the classroom community take care of itself, through interactions, discussion, glances, jokes, small group discussions, existing and new friendships.
After reading both of these articles, I have realized that creating community is one of the most important tasks–and certainly the first task–of online learning. I have to be very intentional about it, and find ways to make students see each other as well as they see me. I was on leave last semester, but my colleagues invariably have spoken about how relieved they were that they had already experienced half a semester face-to-face; the “community” was already there.
I’ve always used many visuals, videos, and images in my classes (with the occasional technological flub), so I’m less worried about the technology of online than I am about making sure that it “feels” like a class. These articles have shown me how to begin thinking about this.