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Digital Introductions for Building Classroom Communities

By Kristin Webber
 | Jun 28, 2019

As the school year wraps up in the United States, many teachers are already thinking about their fall classes. For most educators, the planning will begin with how to get to know their students and introduce them to each other. Digital introductions are an excellent way to begin building a classroom community.

I teach several online graduate courses where my students meet virtually from across the United States. Since these are early courses in their programs it is very important that they get to know each other as they will be studying together for the remainder of their coursework. To begin building these relationships, my very first assignment is a collaborative slideshow using Google Slides. Students are asked to introduce themselves by posting their name, current position, something they love, something they do not like, one fun fact, and a “selfie.”

I ensure the settings are set to edit and link it in the learning management system. Below is an example of my slide that I share to begin the presentation. The full class slide show introduction can be viewed here.  

digital-introductions

The slides take as little as five minutes to create and provide useful information about the student while a us to learn names and faces, which can be difficult in online learning environments. Of course, the questions and information can be changed as needed so it does not become redundant. In reviewing the amount of interaction between the slideshow and a regular discussion post-introduction, I have found my students to be more engaged with the slideshow. It does not take much time to read through them and they can “meet” their entire class rather than just reading a few discussion posts.

Another way to introduce students and build class communities is through digital autobiographies. VoiceThread is an excellent tool for this project as it allows students to easily upload pictures and add narration. Even the youngest of learners can use it with ease. When I assign this project to my undergraduate students, I limit them to 12 slides with no more than 30 seconds of narrative per slide. These parameters help them focus on determining importance and summarizing when they are telling their stories—direct practice with the skills they will be teaching their future students. Throughout the start of the semester, we share one or two VoiceThread autobiographies each class session.

One of the best features of these tools is their ability to have students collaborate and comment on each other’s work. Once the introductions and autobiographies are complete, opening them up to comments from peers takes the community building to the next level. I often see my students connecting with each other when they learn they are teaching the same grade level or they both share a passion for their pets!

The beginning of the year is the time for creating a sense of community. From the youngest learners to graduate students, it is crucial that students feel supported from their classroom environment, their teacher, and each other. Using digital technology to create introductions connects to important literacy content as well as integrating 21st-century skills such as creativity, collaboration, and communication.

Kristin Webber is an associate professor in the Early Childhood Education and Reading Department at Edinboro University where she teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses in literacy and technology.

This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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