by Dr Bruce Johnson
The online classroom is a diverse mix of students with different backgrounds, experiences, cultures, and characteristics because students are not confined to one particular geographic location. While this certainly sounds exciting it can also be a new experience for many students.
This environment can promote collaboration as well as confrontation or conflict. It is important not to manage diversity but the interactions and online classroom conditions for the benefit of producing meaningful exchanges.
One of the starting points for instructors to take is to establish ground rules for online communication, which is often referred to the Rules of Netiquette.
The basic premise of these guidelines are to promote respectful posts between students while they interact with each other. But effective online classroom management requires much more.
It is an ongoing process of monitoring posts, taking corrective action when necessary, and modeling proper communication. If students are new to this type of environment they will need coaching and guidance as they learn these crucial skills.
Where this all begins is with the online discussions. Most online colleges and universities have a mandatory participation requirement and that means students must interact with each other.
It is easy for these discussions to turn into opinion-based posts rather than well-researched academic responses.
When that occurs it presents an opportunity for students to voice their beliefs, which may be in direct conflict with other students' beliefs. At that point the discussion may veer off track and emotional reactions occur.
Instructors can help prevent this from taking place through their continual interaction and feedback with responsive posts.
When students' are prompted to utilize higher cognitive functions and move away from posts that are reactive in nature they learn to view discussions as a place for intellectual discourse.
Of course the students' background and experiences are relevant; however, it needs to be shaped through an objective rather than subjective lens. As students implement critical thinking skills they begin to take a broader view and consider real-world perspectives.
Class discussions also have an ability to promote collaborative efforts when students believe that they are working with each other. This cannot be accomplished through forced compliance but rather it happens as students begin to develop a sense of community among each other.
One way to start this process is through classroom introductions, which allow students to view each other as real people. This also allows instructors to gauge students' reactions to each other and learn more about their background.
There are varying levels of diversity within online classes and in reality, instructors may not know the extent of their students' diverse qualities because they are not physically present.
The most effective approach for managing a diverse class is to encourage all students to contribute to the discussions and create conditions that promote interactions in a safe and respectable manner.
All students have something unique to share simply because of their life experiences. Be willing to ask questions, model the way, and intervene when signs of conflict occur. It is likely everyone has something to learn and benefit from diverse viewpoints.
Dr. Bruce Johnson has had a life-long love of learning and throughout his entire career he has been involved in many forms of adult education; including teaching, training, human resource development, career coaching, and life coaching. Dr. J has completed a master's in Business Administration and a PhD in the field of adult education, with an emphasis in adult learning within an online classroom environment.
Presently Dr. J works as an online instructor, faculty developmental workshop facilitator, faculty mentor, and professional writer. Dr. J's first eBook, APPRECIATIVE ANDRAGOGY: TAKING the Distance Out of Distance Learning, is available on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo. Learn more by visiting http://www.affordablequalitywriting.com
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