3 Ideas to Build Community and Increase Virtual Classroom Engagement

By Evelyn Cordero, CEI Intern

Educators and students alike have demonstrated resilience during the abrupt transition to virtual learning. As the fall semester continues, student engagement is a priority as it was a major concern for both teachers and parents last spring (Barnum & Bryan, 2020). Because many educators are meeting new students virtually, building relationships will look different than it ever has. Educators can foster community and engagement online by encouraging students to create a designated workspace, building Bitmoji virtual classrooms for students to explore, and using social media to connect with students.

Encourage Students To Create a Designated Workspace with the Tools They Have Available

A designated workspace may be helpful for students adjusting to learning from home. Workspaces can vary from student to student, so it is important to make suggestions that are relevant to students from all backgrounds. All students can designate locations from which they will work on assignments or take classes synchronously, meaning coming together at the same scheduled time. Some students may need to utilize their workspace for multiple activities like studying AND dinner. For them, cues may be helpful to assist with transitioning between tasks. Once students have their “school” space selected, encourage them to move a specific item to that space to indicate when it’s time to be present. 

Build a Bitmoji Classroom

Without a shared physical space, teaching and learning look different than they have traditionally.  Bitmoji virtual classrooms provide a “classroom” atmosphere that students are familiar with. Teachers can add links to all objects within their virtual classrooms so this online space serves as a hub for class management and resources. Teachers also get to showcase some of their personality with the individual flair through decorations and room set up. For instance, many teachers have included their pets and family pictures to help their students learn more about them. Step by step directions to build a Bitmoji classroom by Stephanie are Harris (2020) available here.

A Bitmoji classroom can serve as a helpful visual for younger students but is also relevant to teenage students as many have Bitmojis of their own. Teachers can encourage students to use their Bitmoji when communicating via email or while using other G-Suite applications. For instance, the Google Chrome extension lets you place your Bitmoji on various websites accessed through Chrome. A teacher at Blair Montgomery High School in Silver Spring, MD asked students to create their own virtual space as an assignment, which is a great opportunity to learn about student interests (R. Calderon, personal communication, September 13, 2020). Other teachers have encouraged students to create bitmoji lockers to introduce themselves to the school community (Katz, 2020).

Incorporate Social Media in the Classroom

Social media is a powerful tool to engage students, and has been supported as such even prior to transitioning to virtual learning (Rutherford, 2010). Building community with students includes centering their experiences and youth culture. Students are already sharing on social media, which is why educators could use social media as a resource to meet students where they are (Gleason, 2019). Teachers could create a private social media account for the class which students can follow. Class updates and additional material can be posted here to further the learning process and engagement. 

Another way to include social media might be to offer students a project alternative where they can create content or mock content. This could be an opportunity for students to showcase their creativity on platforms they already interact with regularly. Many students create sophisticated content outside of the classroom, so integrating social media within their assignments assists in developing valuable traditional literacy skills such as attention to audience, grammar, and voice (Gleason, 2019). This is a modern way for students to share their ideas and point of view with their peers and teachers. 

This school year is as unique as the times and many aspects of traditional education will be reimagined moving forward. In-person learning may not be occurring everywhere, but there are still opportunities to foster community engagement in creative ways.

References

Barnum M. & Bryan C. (2020, June 26). America’s great remote-learning experiment: What surveys of teachers and parents tell us about how it went. Chalkbeat.

Gleason, B. (2019). Learning with social media: Bringing popular platforms into the classroom to develop literacy, identity, and citizenship. Literacy Today, 37(3), 26

Harris, S. (2020). Step by step directions: Building a Bitmoji classroom

Katz, N. (2020, August 5). Bitmoji lockers are the new Bitmoji classrooms—and a great icebreaker for students! We are Teachers

Rutherford, C. (2010). Using online social media to support preservice student engagement. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 6(4), 703.


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