Personality in the Online Environment

As you may know, I’m teaching two online mathematics upgrading courses this term. It’s been quite an interesting journey in transforming my ‘regular’ classroom into a ‘flipped’ classroom, and now into an ‘online’ classroom. Essentially, I use my flipped classroom videos, and assign unit projects and online discussion boards. For the most part, it works well, but I still have to find a way to nail down increasing discussion board usage. Anyway, the main insight I recently discovered was the element of personality that students normally get when in a face to face class. You know when you don’t realize you have something until it’s gone? Yeah, well that’s how I came across this.

Normally, in a face to face class, there are so many more side conversations that build trust and community aside from the curricular content. In the online environment this term, I have found that some students still seem to lack trust in sharing their issues on the discussion boards (it’s already a month into the term). Many post, but there are some who will email me and tell me that they aren’t sure if they should post their question publicly. Others will post a question, and then a few minutes later, as if in shame, say that they are sorry for posting because they figured it out. My response is to ask them publicly to explain how they figured it out, because it will be helpful for others to see. Overall, I’ve seen some great posting going on, and awesome discussion among members, often leading to strong mathematical questions. However, there are still those who seem uncomfortable sharing in the online environment . . . and I can understand that too.

So, without thinking about any of this, I sent out a message to all my students yesterday telling them how I got sick this weekend and have fallen a bit behind with marking (an apology letter). The response to this was interesting. Because I shared something personal, I got several personal responses back!

This brings me to the question of how much personal sharing is necessary and appropriate, and how does one encourage students to develop an online persona as well?

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