My students know how to create an online community. I hear conversations on a regular basis about their WhatsApp groups, Snapchat groups etc. It will be no surprise that I even hear these conversations from my 11 year old students, who shouldn't be using these platforms, but they are and they aren’t going to stop. In various ways our students are already part of online learning communities: they teach other how to play computer games on their YouTube channels, they guide eachother through multiplayer online games, they watch and comment on instructional videos to learn guitar, learn make-up techniques etc.
Our challenge as teachers is to help them create an online learning community, built around their school/college work. This must be a safe space for our learners, where ideas, work and successes can be shared in a non-judgmental way and learning is encouraged.
Why do it?
Communities can be built around anything e.g. ideologies, hobbies, sports teams. In my experience a lot of students will build their online communities around friendship groups. Unless a friendship group is learning orientated, and I think it's safe to assume that most won't be, then it is doubtful that many of these online communities discuss learning (at least in a meaningful way). As teachers we need to facilitate online learning communities that are built around learning. This will not take away from our learners other online communities, but offer a separate arena for work related communication.
The future workplace will need people with team work and communication skills. It is our duty as teachers and educational leaders to equip our students with the skills that will enable them to thrive in their future roles. They will do jobs we can't even concieve of yet, but it is almost certain that these jobs will require them to be able to learn and implement strategies as part of a team.
"Workplaces are becoming more team orientated."
Patrick Griffin, Chair, Education (Assessment), University of Melbourne
Not only is it vital for our students to build online learning communities for their future work, it is also vital for their school work. In my experience online communities can enthuse students, develop their learning, create competition and develop good practices, such as peer review.
Tools to help
When I was doing by GCSEs way back in 2002, we had a biology teacher who encouraged his students to contact him through MSN Messenger to discuss revision (remember MSN Messenger!!) This was before online safeguarding and today private messenging is not a wise thing to do. However even back then he realised the value of building an online learning community for his students, by meeting them where they were at. Whether it be an online learning community we are directly involved in as teachers, or one where we take a back seat, there are many safe tools for us to use. Here is a brief overview of tools I have used and know to be effective:
Help your class build social learning communities, whilst learning safe skills for when they use social media. Social media with training wheels. Bringing authentic digital citizenship learning to life for under 13s. https://gobubble.school
Blogger and other blogging platforms can be a great tool for students to showcase work. Not only does a blog give learners an authentic audience for their work but they can also recieve feedback from other students, teachers and parents through the comments section on the blog. This can be a great motivation for learners to improve their work and strive to learn.
Google Classroom and other VLEs
I mainly use Google Classroom with my students, not only because it is my school's policy but also because in my experience it performs best for what I want to do with my students. I have found that the stream section of a Google Classroom can be the perfect location for students to chat about their work and share feedback. I have had countless experiences of students spurring each other on and working together as a team through this simple communication tool. Other platforms such as Schoology and Microsoft Teams work in a similar way.
Google Hangouts Chat
Google Hangouts Chat is Google's version of WhatsApp. However it works entirely in your schools domain. This means that every message sent can be monitored by the school. Students (and staff) can create groups or message others one-on-one, making it a powerful learning alternative to WhatsApp. https://hangouts.google.com
This amazing app allows students to record videos an post them to their learning communities. Think Snapchat but for learners. This tool allows your learners to chare their voice anywhere, at any time and on any device.
Let us now some of the tools you are using to build online learning communities with your students.