Concerns About Community
Over the summer, I’ve been speaking with a lot of Indiana University instructors about what fall 2020 teaching will look like in, what I’ve been calling, the “pandemic classroom.” I’m defining the pandemic classroom as a fall (and, likely, spring) semester marked by mask-wearing, social distancing, fewer students in the classroom (and more attending via Zoom), sudden adjustments in teaching modality, and a general sense of anxiety for instructors and students alike.
In my discussions with IU instructors, the biggest concern expressed about fall 2020: establishing a sense of community among students in their courses. IU instructors are worried that the disruptions and different modalities will make it difficult for students to establish rapport and trust, thus making important, course-related discussion and collaboration more difficult in the coming semester.
Creating and Developing Community Throughout the Semester
For today’s blog, I want to think about how to approach our sense of creating and developing classroom community in the pandemic classroom.
Let’s start with ice breakers. First day icebreakers are a common way to create community for a new class of students. They provide a chance for students to get to know each other and help to build familiarity and comfort with engagement among the class.
Thinking about ice breakers on the first day is a great start… in a normal semester. But this fall could see a variety of disruptions to the class, to our institutions, and to our students’ personal circumstances. If first day icebreakers are a good way to get to know each other, perhaps having icebreakers during the semester would be a good way to support community throughout our unpredictable fall.
Engaging in icebreakers past the first day, especially as students might have to adjust modalities, might offer a chance for students to recalibrate their changing sense of community. Icebreakers can be applied specifically to address course transitions (such as going online) and personal disruptions (such as an illness).
Share something about yourself
“Share something about yourself,” is the most common first meeting icebreaker prompt. There are a lot of different ways to ask student to share and show something about themselves on that first day, no matter the modality: draw something, present something from an at-home scavenger hunt, share ice-breaker information via Padlet, or even converse asynchronously via VoiceThread.
Build the community
Once the semester starts, you might focus student engagement on your discipline and course activities. Here are a few ways to encourage students to interact in ways that directly address the course:
- Collaborative note-taking: Consider collaborative note taking, which can be implemented using a variety of approaches. One approach could be to ask one student to take notes for each class meeting (rotating responsibilities through the class) on a shared document (like a Google document) that other students can add to or update.
- Class meeting catch-up: Ask students to join their groups and give them the following prompts to talk about or respond to in writing:
- What class concept(s) still inspires confusion?
- What adjustments could students/the instructor make to facilitate learning?
- What questions do you have about the recent transition to another modality (for example, moving online)?
- Group note review: Group students and ask them to compare notes on the previous class meeting (or previous week of class meetings). Encourage students to fill in what they missed or clarify what might have been confusing. Students can share their notes through Google or just screen sharing through Zoom, and then discuss what they wrote.
- Open office hours: Consider holding open office hours on Zoom to give students a chance to interact with you and with one another.
As you create and develop class community this fall, take a moment at the beginning of the semester to connect with your students. Reflect on specific ways you can develop student community through the fall. Make sure to allow students to take time to reorient themselves with each other during this unpredictable semester.
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