quote Community-building activity for the first week of class

It has been a while since I last wrote in this blog, but I do have some good excuses. I launched a new research project and organized an international panel for a conference. But it has not been all work. Koopr (my dog) and I have made it a practice to play soccer in the yard, so I’m officially a “soccer mom!” I’ve also weeded the garden beds here and there, which has been weirdly relaxing.

Today’s entry is about a topic related to what might be termed online “etiquette” in remote teaching. Some of you may have seen the news-story of a TV reporter (Will Reeves) who, according to the L.A. Times, was “caught wearing only business attire from the waist up on Tuesday’s edition of ‘Good Morning America.’” (He swears he was wearing shorts.) Of course, the story went viral.

Obviously, students and instructors know better than to show up half dressed. However, it’s not a bad idea to establish some guidelines to create and cultivate a healthy learning environment. That is why I’m posting an activity that worked really well for my students in prior classes —though the classes were not taught online.

The reason the activity worked well was because the students were given ownership of the course. Working collaboratively, they created a list of ground rules for a safe and productive learning environment. As I explain in the handout, this activity could also work well in language courses for creating an actual real-life situation in which students will feel compelled to use the target language to engage in meaningful communication on a project that will have long-term effects. The activity will also help you, the instructor, to proactively meet some of the challenges that online meetings can sometimes pose. For instance, what do you do if a student has breakfast during class? If you approach teaching as a community practice and set aside time at the beginning of the semester for students to actively shape their learning environment, you won’t have to deal with that question alone, as it can be resolved as a community and by referencing the collectively written ground rules. Of course, this should be done carefully and sensitively, as it is always a good idea to approach the individual student to determine if they might need support from other professionals in university community.

What are the strategies you have employed to create learning communities? What has worked and why?