Are you sick of reading online learning articles? (Confession: I’m virtually raising my hand.)
So why bother reading another? Well, this isn’t your typical article about online learning.
When I sat down to interview a veteran of online learning, Dr. Corinne Hyde, I expected lists of technology resources—the stuff that most online learning articles are made of these days.“I would emphasize building a community of learners in a virtual space far more than finding the perfect technology tool.” —Dr. Corinne Hyde, USC Rossier's School of Education Click To Tweet
Dr. Hyde was the first full-time distance faculty member to do the online Masters of Arts and Technology program at USC Rossier’s School of Education. With that background, I expected things to get techy.
And while there were some technology recommendations, the main message focused on a broader theme: building human connections with students.
Focus More on Students Than Online Learning Tools
Human connection and online learning? Seems like an oxymoron, but it’s not to Dr. Corinne Hyde. After spending eleven years working online with teachers and administrators, she believes “human connection is very, very possible in an online setting.”
It’s not just possible, it’s essential.
“Right now we need to make sure we’re really supporting our students as they deal with the fallout from the global pandemic, racial reckoning, and economic hurdles by building a community of learners in a virtual space,” said Dr. Hyde. “I would emphasize that far more than finding the perfect technology tool.”
Again, not an answer I expected interviewing an online learning expert. Instead of technology tools, the message firmly focused on supporting students during this uncertain time.
That form of support, according to Dr. Hyde, comes by building relationships.
This isn’t a new or necessarily pandemic-specific answer. “It’s the same kind of advice that I give my pre-service teachers: relationships have to come first before everything else,” she admits. It’s an answer that’s been a theme among our Teacher Education Podcast guests, like Teacher of the Year 2020, Rodney Robinson.
So I guess you could say the answer is a teacher prep program classic—but with a virtual twist.
How to Build Relationships in Online Courses
So, how do you actually build relationships with students online? For those looking to improve how they build student relationships in hybrid and online learning environments, Dr. Hyde has a few ideas.
Similar to face-to-face courses, interaction builds relationships. It’s just that online interaction requires different techniques and tools. For example, if your aim is interaction for an online course, avoid the model of: I’ll just lecture over Zoom and they’ll take notes.
“Instead, take time in either every live class session or in your Learning Management System to somehow engage students,” Dr. Hyde suggested. “Talk about their experiences that they are having right now and how all of that impacts learning.”
Dr. Hyde listed a few tools she uses to interact with her students online.
- Padlet: It functions almost like a bulletin board and allows students to interact with each other.
- Flipgrid: An opportunity for back and forth discussion that connects to actual experiences.
“Right now my husband is outside trying to keep my two kids occupied and my two dogs from barking while we’re here on this call,” Dr. Hyde told me. That comment is so 2020, right? The unpredictability of 2020 demands flexibility and understanding.
So what should professors be flexible about?
- Interactions with students
And don’t just be flexible, tell your students that you’re flexible.
“Be very, very explicit that you’re going to be flexible with your learners,” Dr. Hyde recommended. “That you’re going to be understanding and compassionate with your learners.” Communicating empathy and flexibility early in your courses builds those relationships in a pandemic learning environment.
To build relationships with students, they need access to you and learning resources. And trying to create an equitable environment online can be daunting.
Dr. Hyde reminds instructors that while you can’t give your students high-speed internet, “There are quite a few things that we, as teachers, can do that don’t require those big structural changes or institutional supports.”
Solving equity issues in your online courses requires flexibility.
Perhaps your resource-heavy LMS lags for a few students. If that’s the case, post a video on YouTube so they can access it from their smartphone.
If a student won’t be able to record or edit a video, have them get out their phone and use Facebook video or any other kind of messaging tool that can be accessed on a cellphone.
A Key is Smartphones
(See a theme here? Most students have access to smartphones, so you improve equity by making sure all resources are accessible on smartphones).
In short, if you want to have a relationship with students, meet them where they are virtually: smartphones, social media, YouTube, etc.
Still Want Specific Online Learning How-Tos?
If you’re interested in practical how-tos for online learning, I recommend the resource that brought Dr. Hyde to our attention: “Supporting Online Learning in the Time of the Pandemic.” It’s fantastic.
Online learning guides typically cause anxiety attacks because of an overload of information or include a pithy list that sounds helpful but isn’t really actionable. This USC Rossier resource hits the happy medium between the two: it’s easy to digest and implement.
Dr. Hyde’s pitch for the resource is this: “It focuses on concise, clear sets of things you could do right now that don’t take a ton of research, that doesn’t take a ton of professional development or training.” This resource delivers just that.
So if you’re still looking for helpful online learning resources, check out this one.