Teaching Tip: Up Close and Personal–Virtually

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The PLC (Professional Learning Community) will be providing the teaching tip of the week throughout the academic year in support of their goal of interdisciplinary collegiality.

In spring of 2014, Andy Herzog and Gretchen Trkay (UTA Libraries Outreach & Scholarship) interviewed a large number of UTA students about their online learning experiences. What they heard over and over again is the lament that they don’t feel connected to their fellow students or their faculty. Their findings are supported by a growing body of research about online learning. We humans have a need to connect. Many of us grapple with how we can create authentic discourse and genuine interpersonal connections with our online students. Discussion boards can be filled with perfunctory comments that provide little evidence of a personal investment in the discourse. How can we stage authentic interpersonal connections that are so important to the students’ satisfaction and learning?

I discovered that electronic polling is a surprisingly effective tool to engage students in that digital environment. Polling results are instantaneous which piques student interest in the outcome. There are many free polling tools on the web: Poll Everywhere, Kahoot, polling in Google Forms, to name a few. I use a modified Doodle poll. At the beginning of this semester, I polled students on various commonalities such as career goals, work schedules, course loads, etc. I used that data to form semester long groups of 5-6 members. Polling also allows me to quickly assess how the students are feeling or what they are thinking on course topics. The number of times that a certain polling question is referenced in discussions validates how this tool succeeds in connecting the students to each other. The response rate to a poll is another indicator of engagement as 100% of the students respond. During the course of last semester, I took the risk of polling students for feedback on the different approaches I was using for assignments and projects, including their comfort level. This transparency conveyed my sincerity and interest in their experiences in the course and my investment in them. Need I state how that dynamic connected them to me?

~Diane Galloway, dianeg@uta.edu, Mid-level Program Coordinator, Curriculum & Instruction, College of Education

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