A Community for Collaborative Learning
An open learning community creates an environment where students can share ideas, build on the ideas of others, help correct those who have misunderstood a concept, and feel comfortable exploring topics they do not understand in more detail. To create a community online I use an ice-breaker discussion during the first week, such as “Introduce yourself and tell us how biology affects your daily life.” This allows students to interact in a relaxed environment and get to know each other, and me. I also have a pre-course survey that students fill out during the first week which asks open-ended questions to help me tailor the class to the students. The questions are worded to include my response to each one, so the students can get to know me better. To maintain the community I actively participate in all discussions throughout the course to keep them going and to ensure the community maintains a safe feeling for all students.
Student-Centered Instructional Methods
Student-centered learning occurs in my class using discussions, project-based assessments, and rubrics to help guide students through the projects. Weekly discussions reinforce class content and allow students to share their thoughts and reflect on the comments of others. I facilitate these discussions using the socratic method, by posing probing questions that encourage students to think deeper, or supplying new material to encourage deeper thinking on the topic. The project-based assessments are intended to bring student thinking to a higher level of Bloom’s taxonomy. There are many technology tools available for free that can be used to enhance online learning. Google Docs and blogs are two of my favorite tools to encourage group work and self-reflection. Other important online tools that I enjoy using in class include Twitter, Wikis, Coggle for concept mapping, ePals for creating discussions between my students and elementary school children, and YouTube for making videos. All assessments in my class also include a rubric to help students understand how I will be grading, and to encourage them to push for their best by providing the criteria to achieve a perfect paper. The feedback I provide to students uses positive reinforcement to discuss what they did well based on the performance levels in the rubric, and suggestions on how they can push themselves to the next level in future assignments.
An Amiable and Reliable Instructor
To me one of the most important aspects of teaching is ensuring the students are comfortable with me and will come to me for help when they need it. Besides getting to know them during our introductions, and being active in our weekly discussions, I also try to ensure consistency and reliability. My goal for grading is to return comments in 48 hours or less so students can incorporate suggestions into assignments the same week. I also check my email frequently, and respond to emails as soon as I get them. Online classes can be very stressful for students if they have a problem with an assignment and need a response from me to keep working on it. It is really important for me to minimize this stress in my class and encourage my students to contact me if they have a problem.