Author: Katie Gdula, Wellesley College and Intern at Origin Tutors
Research has shown that the student-teacher relationships, as well as peer relationships, are significant factors that determine academic success (Marks, 2005). As a senior at Wellesley College, located in the US, I was disappointed to find out the last year of my college experience would be virtual. Making connections in the classroom is something I value greatly in my education. Not only do meaningful relationships between students and professors lead to a more engaging learning experience, but those connections can last beyond graduation. The people we meet in college can have a lasting impact on our lives, and can introduce us to new and exciting opportunities. It seemed like a difficult relationship to build through the computer. I was even more concerned for my friends who were just entering their first year in college. They have been forced to build student-teacher relationships online, as well as peer relationships and friendships. The transition to college can be an extremely isolating experience, and the pandemic has amplified this feeling of loneliness.
Making connections in the classroom is something I value greatly in my education.
Despite the social drawbacks to virtual classrooms, professors have attempted to build relationships in the class through various approaches. One method that seemed to work well was implemented by a psychology professor at Wellesley College. She decided to start the class every week with a check-in and a genuine conversation about how everyone was doing. The responses from students would determine the pace and curriculum of the class, which was extremely important in order to establish trust between our professors and the class. The environment that we all created was supportive and allowed for open and honest dialogue. This time can also be used to hear from students about ideas they have to make class more enjoyable or productive. When students feel that their feelings, opinions, and ideas are being heard, they are more likely to invest in their academic progress. The size of the class was about 10 people, which allowed for more personal relationships to form between students and with our professor. However, in a large class, this approach is not as practical.
While taking a computer science class with over 25 students, it was evident that a personal connection between all the students in the class would be extremely difficult. This course, however, included a group project which extended over the course of the semester. This allowed for smaller groups of students to connect on a more personal level and work towards a common goal. Research has shown that group work is extremely effective in reinforcing content knowledge, but cannot replace fully guided instruction (Bennet, 2014). Smaller group discussion rooms make students feel more comfortable speaking and having their cameras on because there are less people viewing them. This alleviates some of the anxiety associated with participating in the virtual classroom. Being able to see the faces of my peers was essential to building meaningful connections. There was less time to check in with every student, but I found this method of peer relationship building to be quite successful.
Building connections virtually is challenging, and can be frustrating at times. However, the benefits of creating a healthy learning environment with genuine interpersonal connections between classmates and teachers lead to higher achievement among students. To learn about how origin tutors can help you achieve academic success through individual lessons and private tutoring options, visit origintutors.com.