3 Online Tools to Help You Get to Know Your Online Students Better


“Getting to Know You” activities for the online classroom: some tools to foster camaraderie in online students

Is chumminess important?

Teachers of children know that it is not only their responsibility to nurture the child’s mind, but to nurture their ability to interact socially. Education is social. Working, in most situations, involves collaboration. Working together is easier when people know each other and have some things in common.

What does this mean in the technological age? People “meet” their co-workers in emails and in chatboxes. Then, they have to work together. How do we help students (and society) become chummier?

Relationships on Social Media

Matthew Lieberman discusses in his book Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect,” how the mere thought of successful sharing on social media activates our reward-processing centers. The act of sharing is inherently rewarding to people who are hungry to connect.

How can online teachers harness that energy, and use it to entice greater learning?

Children learn best when they like their teacher and they think their teacher likes them. – Gordon Neufeld

Relationships among online students

In my online classes, I have found that there is much more academic participation when I really nurture the social interactions. Students are more willing to write meaningful essays, take intellectual risks and challenge each others’ thinking when I have worked to help them to know and understand each other.

How can we help our students to know each other?

Let’s equip our students with the tools to connect with each other- online

Without ever meeting in person, students can interact with each other and engage in rich dialog. They can also discover ways to meaningfully present themselves. Here are a few tools and practices that I have used to help my students feel connected with one another.



Animoto is a cloud-based, user-friendly, video-creation tool that allows users to upload their own pictures, choose music and add captions to quickly create their own videos. I have my students create their own introductory videos, in which they share who they are, what they like to study and do, who is in their family, and other relevant details from their lives. Here are some videos made by my middle school students. I then share these videos in Google Circles, so that it is easy for all of the students to watch each other’s videos, and comment on them. In the first class, I spend a few minutes pointing out what the students have in common. Often, after class, students “friend” each other on Facebook, and then they are off! They have all sorts of opportunities to interact, engage and see how similar (or different) they are.


VoiceThread is just about the funkiest tool I have discovered in the past few years. It makes it possible for students to have meaningful conversations, asynchronously, between classes. For students who lack social or academic competence, VoiceThread is even better than actual conversation, because it allows students to organize and edit their thoughts before sharing them with the class. It also allows students to participate in whatever medium is most comfortable for them: voice, video or text.

I often have students create a VoiceThread memory before my class on “The Giver,” by Lois Lowry. ‘The Giver’ is all about memories and how memories create our consciousness. By having the students share a memory, before the class even starts, they are able to:

-get to know each other

-become more comfortable with one of the essential tools of the course

-explore one of the main ideas of the novel.

Here is a VoiceThread memory that I created for my students.

Jing and Screencast

It seems paramount to me to let the kids hear my voice as much as possible. Often, when I am giving them an assignment in an email, I will record my voice, reading the assignment as well. My students often write essays, and I reply to their essays with voice comments. You can convey warmth, enthusiasm for the subject matter and playfulness much more effectively in a voice comment than in a written comment. There are a number of different ways to make voice comments, and I have experimented with many of them. What consistently seems to be the easiest, however, is JING. With JING, I can create a screencast of the essay that I am correcting. Then, I can share the screencast quickly and easily on Screencast.com. In just moments, I can create a screencast that will let my students know me better. Here is a screencast that I made while correcting a paper.

Good Practices

Conduct phone interviews

Before I accept students into my program, I conduct phone interviews with both the parents and the students. I have a series of questions that I ask to help me to learn more about the learner and the expectations of the family.

Show up early and chat before class

I always schedule my online class on WizIQ 10 minutes before I am supposed to teach. I let the students and their parents know that I will be there. We then have a few minutes to work out any technological glitches and to simply converse. I have been astonished how willing to talk kids have been. I am a friendly, funny person, and I did not know if my personality would “work” in an online classroom. It does. No problem.

Use voice recordings whenever possible

My students often have learning issues. Writing out assignments can seem cold and impersonal. If I include a voice recording in my directions, the students are more likely to understand.

Give out your phone number

Now, this might not work if you are a big university professor or if you are running MOOCs, but as an operator of a tiny business (i.e. I teach alone.) it makes a lot of sense. Often, we can clear up quick problems with a two minute cell phone chat.

Make it warm and friendly

Online teaching does not have to be cold and impersonal. With a bit of planning, the Virtual Classroom can be as friendly as any other place of learning.


I am a teacher, hiker, mother, dancer and home-maker. I have taught pre-school through SAT prep. I am exploring ways to create on-line learning communities for home-schooled middle school and high school students. In particular, I am starting a low-residency on-line middle school. I would like to help young people explore important ideas while enjoying their lives! You can learn more about my programs at www.onlineclassesforgroovykids.org.


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