Real People in a Virtual World

  • Fact:I was a nerd in school.

Nerds are born, not made: Kristen in Grade 2

  • Fact: I’m still a nerd.
  • Fact: Outwardly, I’ve given up on “fitting in” and “belonging” anywhere but nerd conventions.
  • Fact: Inside, I still want to belong.

I want to belong to the group of women who know how to fix their hair or are competent with makeup application.  I want to fit in at church.  I want to know that someone missed me when I went out of town. I want to know that I’m valued and valuable.

Our students also want to belong.  They want to know they are cared about.  They want to know that someone notices their struggles.  They even want to know, if only subconsciously, that they have a place that they can go for help.

Online students are a difficult group to reach and I have been searching for ways to connect to them and to connect them with others.  This is the segment of students that can really benefit from the pleasure of belonging to a group, specifically my class.

I teach computers (mostly the required Intro to Computers class) and so I get a lot of freedom in the creation of assignments.  I have used a couple of my assignments to help students, especially online students, forge the desired connection with me.

The connection begins with an assignment.  They are instructed to create a 15 minute meeting with me using the calendar component of their student email account.  They have the option to schedule the meeting in person, on the phone, or via the school’s instant messaging software.

During this meeting I have only one purpose– to make the student feel like they can talk to me.  I have tried a variety of interview formats with specific questions to ask, but have settled on the simple “how are things going in the class so far?”  I also talk to them about their other classes, their family, or whatever is important to them. I try to pull up any emails I may have from them or anything they have posted on the discussion board so that I can ask them about their “furbabies”, their last deployment, or the fact that they haven’t been to school in 20 years.  They also have a chance to get any worries off their minds by asking questions like “When will my grades show up?” or “Did I submit that assignment correctly?”  Often the students with these questions are not the ones who are going to email or call me to ask them.

Students seem to really appreciate this interaction and are much more likely to contact me when they have questions or issues during the course.  Even after the class ends, I still get students who remember that first connection with me and send me special emails to thank me… and that makes teaching even more pleasurable for me!

pleasureteam note:  Kristen provides a wonderful example of leveraging the pleasure of being part of a group.  Do you have strategies that you can share?

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One comment on “Real People in a Virtual World

  1. Great post, just absolutely filled with warmth and interest. B

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