What does it take to build a stronger online community? We asked SAF students for their feedback on when they felt most engaged in their last virtual classroom.
The global pandemic has caused industries across the board to adapt, and education has been no exception. From moving classes online to developing more innovative ways to reach students, it’s been a period of rapid growth and change for many.
Online classrooms have quickly become an indispensable part of the education landscape, and Study Abroad Foundation (SAF) was quick to adapt virtual programming to meet the new needs of students. But how can we continue to meaningfully engage with students who are located on the other side of the world, and ensure that they’re receiving a similar level of experiential learning that they will also find equally enriching?
To learn more, we asked students who completed Beyond the Classroom (BTC), a series of extra-curricular cultural lessons, about what they value when it comes to virtual classrooms. Here’s what they told us.
1. Let students connect with one another as much as possible.
One of the main reasons why students said they were attracted to BTC was the opportunity to communicate with other students in the program. And that makes perfect sense; after months of social restrictions that have deprived young people of the traditional campus experience – active classrooms, lively discussions, busy common areas where socializing can take place – it’s only natural that feeling connected to fellow students would hold significant value to them.
Give students as many opportunities as possible to connect with one another in more personalized ways. For example, 75% of respondents preferred voice chat in the group discussions, over less personal forms of communication, like texting in a group chat.
2. Help your students explore places they have an interest in visiting and studying in.
It can be hard to compete with all the distractions that exist in the home environments of students. Engage your students by making your online classroom a portal of escape, meeting them on their own personal interests and hobbies through topics that allow them to discover and explore the destinations they’re interested in visiting, once, they are allowed to travel again.
Case in point: when asked what kinds of topics they wished had been included in BTC activities, one student responded that they wanted to know more about “museums, art, and popular music in the big cities where students study.”
3. Include programming that is immediately relevant to the next steps of your students’ lives.
Students across the board said they had more interest in, and appreciation of, lessons that touched on real-life scenarios that they were likely to experience. Learning how to communicate appropriately with professors, or information for students interested in furthering their studies in the US were among some of the most well-received topics of group discussion. This indicates that students are willing to invest time and interest into online experiences that offer them real-world value, especially when it pertains to their future interests and ambitions.