This article was written by italki Henry
Building Learning Communities
Community. Sharing values. Sharing interests. All these aspects are so important nowadays, don't you think so?
Many people crave a sense of belonging to a specific group or community; this is also true with language learning. One of the things that can build and create a sense of community has to do with a shared space where people type comments, doubts, questions, etc.
Why is it important for teachers?
I am an English Language Arts Teacher, and I teach K-12 students in a virtual classroom setting. We use G. Classroom to interact, create assignments, send emails, grades, classwork, homework, etc. To have a sense of belonging, I can tell that you can't just use the platform; you have to interact "with" the platform. Having a shared space helps the students realize that cooperation is another way of learning. What if you're an italki teacher working on the platform? Is it essential to create a sense of belonging to your students? Absolutely! If students want to build an online community and their teacher helps support and build that with them it creates a great sense of connection and professionalism with the teacher. Keeping students engaged and learning with the teacher. Building community can be challenging at first, but I'm going to break down some steps that might help you create one as a learner or share it with the students. Are you ready? Let's get to it!
Step 1 – Be the learner
If you would like to get the feel of being part of an online language learning community, choose one! If you're learning a new language, you can look for one over the web and sign up! Engaging in the community will give you the real thing about interaction and see if the benefits outweigh any possible disadvantages students might face when joining an online community. italki’s community can be a fun and interesting place to learn, but you can also benefit from exploring other communities on the internet.
Step 2 – Platform
You can't have a community without students! So, the first thing that I think is important is the medium to be used. Students can benefit from language learning communities, but they need to know what they are looking for and its benefits. For example, the italki community has millions of registered users and thousands of professional teachers/community tutors. We have different hashtags that italki created to facilitate people meeting one another/looking for information in the right place. Why not teach your student how to navigate in the community?
Step 3 – Privacy issues
One of the critical things that students must be aware of has to do with data privacy. Students should protect themselves (and their families if any young students learn a language) by not disclosing personal information. This is, of course, a personal decision; however, I've seen this happen: people ask you for your WhatsApp number or skype user-id; why not suggest they create a new account for their learning path and keep most of the details confidential? We want the internet and language learning communities to be a safe haven for learners to sharpen their language skills. If they find themselves tangled in awkward situations, that could be stressful for them; so, I think it's in our power to tell them about the dangers of the internet, even if they are probably aware of them.
Step 4 – How/What to learn?
In a language learning community, a student should have access to forums, discussion topics, questions, etc. Help the student understand that, in a good language learning community, they should have an active part in asking or even answering questions; the more you get, the more you learn!
Step 5 – Appropriate posts
A language learning community has its benefits, but it's not a replacement for language classes. Would it be reasonable to expect to have thesis/essays corrected in a community? Is it logical to share documents/screenshots (sometimes, you can clearly see it's a test/exam) on a community, asking for the correct answers?
As professional teachers/community tutors, we understand that a community spirit does not give you the answers to exams but facilitates the learning process through questions, talking points, polls, etc.
Step 6 – What about a language partner?
Many students who sign up in language learning communities are looking for a language partner/exchange partner. How can they find someone to practice? We sometimes read comments on the italki community, saying that someone is looking for a language partner. That is too vague, don't you think? What about suggesting the following information: "Hi! I'm (name), and I'm from (country). I'm looking for a language partner in (the language they want to learn/improve). Availability: 2-4 pm Mondays; If you're interested, please drop me a message".
If they feel unsafe, they can provide additional information, saying – "girls only"; "I will be willing to engage in a language learning group with a minimum of 3 learners".
Step 7 -Can they create their learning community?
If the student is tech-savvy, would it be good to encourage them to create their language learning community? What if you, as a teacher, could give them your full support by making part of that community and engaging in conversation? Would you get additional students using this approach?
In a nutshell, language learning communities are an addition to what we do as teachers/facilitators in the learning process. One thing can't/should not coexist without the other. So, the next time your student mentions the need to practice with co-learners, maybe you can give them a piece of advice using this article!
I wish you well in your endeavors!