Online Classes: A New Frontier in Classroom Culture

Published on March 10, 2017 by arothstein

Even as recent as 10 years ago, predictions regarding the prevalence of online learning greatly underestimated its explosive growth. As a student at Broadview University, you will have the exciting opportunity to engage in this convenient and innovative classroom set-up. In addition to the most obvious benefits such as the ability to access class materials when it is convenient for you and the ability to maintain employment while you obtain your degree, online classes also allow you to engage with students around the globe as you learn from one another and your instructor. The benefits of a diverse class cohort are countless. From new points of view on the topics you are studying, and the formation of a network of colleagues from far outside your geographically local area, to the ability to work with individuals of varying backgrounds, experience levels, ages, and ethnicities, online classes bring together students that would otherwise never have crossed paths and places them in a learning community.

As you well know, professors design the curriculum for their courses, but you may be less familiar with the concept of classroom culture that professors also guide in creating. A classroom culture is the overall environment of the course- the feelings and norms that are established through the interactions between the students themselves and between the students and the professor. Studies show that the classroom culture is almost as important as the quality of the curriculum when determining student learning outcomes.

Broadview University’s curriculum is research-based and effective, and professors are experienced and engaging. Professors begin each class by guiding students in the creation of a positive and collaborative classroom culture where students feel that they are a valued member of the learning community and where they know they have the support of the others in class. As a student, you are empowered to contribute to the classroom culture. As with any culture, classroom culture is a living and breathing conceptualization. Each interaction helps to shape the culture, and it may change throughout a quarter, a week, or even a day based on what is occurring within the class group.

In most instances, the development of the online classroom culture takes a bit longer than in a regular classroom setting, but because of the ongoing interactions that literally take place between students 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the culture that is developed and the relationships formed are often much stronger than that of a traditional classroom. One of the first things that you can do to help shape the classroom culture and to assert yourself as a supportive and friendly member of your class is to fully engage in your professor’s introductory activity. While the chosen activity or posting will vary from class to class, you can take the lead by going above and beyond a generic, simple introduction of yourself. Tell a funny anecdote. Share a short video introduction so that your classmates can get to know more about you. This video can be anything from a 30-second hello to a 2-minute highlight reel filmed at your favorite park. By offering your classmates an authentic look into who you are, you will help to inspire them to share in an authentic way.

As the class continues, maintain your commitment to interacting with your classmates in a casual, revealing way. While there are threads, such as a graded response thread, where maintaining your academic tone is important, do not hesitate to engage with your classmates in a more relaxed manner on less formal threads. Offer to host a Google Hangout virtual happy hour or study session. Set up a Facebook group for the students in your course. The deeper the personal bonds are between the individuals in your course, the more genuine and meaningful your classroom discussions will be.

Another important part of classroom culture is respect. Your professors have been well trained to manage student interactions to ensure that everyone follows the basics of online etiquette. Do your part by responding to statements made by your classmates that you may not agree with in a respectful tone. If your disagreement is not directly related to the course objective being discussed, private message the other student and ask if they would like to continue dialoguing on the topic. If they decline, respect their request. Also, if you notice a conversation that may be taking a disrespectful tone, do not hesitate to let your professor know. If you have a relationship with one or more of the parties involved, reach out one-on-one and suggest they step out of the conversation. One major benefit of online classes is that everyone can log-off and step away if they get frustrated and to come back to a topic later with a clear head. In-person classes do not offer this luxury.  

Classroom culture is also influenced by how the class participants handle confusion. From confusion about course materials to confusion about assignment instructions, if you become confused about something, do not be hesitant to ask your classmates for clarification. There is a good chance you may not be the only student confused, and your willingness to show vulnerability can increase the likelihood that more shy participants will be open about their own challenges. Likewise, if you see another student is confused on a point that you understand, reach out and offer clarification or a solution. While your professor will be available for questions and proactive in clearing up any issues, sometimes you will see the problem first. As a learning community member, take on the responsibility of ensuring that all of your classmates are on board.

The classroom culture that develops in your online courses will be unique for every single class. Enjoy contributing to a positive culture throughout your time at Broadview University. The relationships that you make and the bond that you form will allow you to graduate with an extensive cross-country network to call upon when you need something in your professional career. Maintain relationships with your classmates once classes have ended, and foster these relationships throughout your career. The value of a robust network in this digital age cannot be underestimated.

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