There is no doubt that the COVID‐19 pandemic has radically revolutionized teaching methods and student interactions in the classroom. Like millions of teachers around the world not formally prepared for this global pandemic, it was quite challenging as an early-career second language writing instructor to meet and interact with my students who were often multilingual writers stuck in small chat windows. In March 2020, I wrote an article on how instructors can be mindful of online classroom management while also keeping in mind the redesign of their syllabi for online instruction. However, I believe we now need to think beyond classroom management and reflect on our own teaching methods, focusing on online strategies to better establish learning communities.
Building a community often establishes more interactive classrooms. However, building a sense of community among learners via computer-aided resources for seamless learning can be challenging in the remote world. Many instructors who already incorporate technology in their teaching pedagogies have recognized the ability of online tools to help support learning community development. To encourage my students to become supportive of one another despite facing a pandemic, I use five online tools that support community building, both in-person and online. These resources include:
ArcGIS Story Maps
I often use the Argis Story Maps application for my students to submit their essay outlines in an interactive and engaging format. This resource helps my students show their understanding of specific concepts and how they would structure their essay by using multimodal features such as YouTube links, maps, songs, pictures, and other resources. It also provides my students with the opportunity to explain their ideas and critical arguments through an alternative platform while making the language acquisition process relatively more comfortable.
With many classes being offered asynchronously, Padlet is a useful platform for keeping your students engaged in conversations related to your course topics. Additionally, this resource also facilitates an informal dedicated space for our learners to express their interests, passions, habits, opinions, and hobbies on the topics that matter most to them. The application can also foster organic communication points in class and could be one way of helping students connect with peers with similar interests while also encouraging different brainstorming ideas as a class.
Socractive is a formative assessment tool and serves almost any grade level. Instructors can create quizzes and track their students’ progress in either asynchronous or synchronous class formats via autogenerated and live performance reports. Students can also receive instant feedback based on their performance, and instructors can customize their comments to help keep personal touch points with their students. The summary provided of overall student performance can also help instructors distinguish what topics need more instructional support and provide teachers sufficient time to prepare their lectures in advance.
TED Ed videos can be great conversation starters for any class when introducing a new topic. TED Talks can help teachers create intentional opportunities for students to be part of a cultivating learning community with the help of more in-depth discussions. I usually include these videos in my lessons and provide a few response questions, where students first watch the TED Talk video together and then discuss the focus questions after. During discussion, I find that my students find community with one another and expand on ideas they may have never considered.
Grammarly is great for online writing assistance and can be used as a plagiarism checker tool. It provides an opportunity for early writers to self-reflect on their writings, especially when they might feel reluctant to ask for support during the initial learning phase. Instructors can introduce this tool as a language scaffold to teach the importance of content and style while writing in a specific genre. Tools such as Grammarly’s plagiarism checker can be used to help students be more conscious of plagiarism. Overall, this tool can help struggling writers take small steps towards developing more confidence and self-sufficiency in their writing.
I thoroughly enjoyed using these online tools for different purposes, such as brainstorming activities or assessing my students’ understanding of concepts at different learning stages. These tools were useful in establishing meaningful communication both with my students and among my students to minimize online learning stress, foster a learning community, and retain their interest in the course.
Saurabh Anand is a TESOL educator, PhD student of language and literacy education at the University of Georgia, and in 2021, the International Literacy Association awarded him the 30 Under 30 honor.