While online courses have become a convenient option for students, their growing popularity has also exposed some significant challenges associated with distance learning. One in particular—how to foster community in online courses—is especially pressing. Unfortunately, digitizing aspects of the learning process has caused some of the human components to fall to the wayside.

Since online learning environments often include little to no face-to-face contact, building relationships between students, their peers, and the instructor can be difficult. And students have been feeling the sting, which shows in both satisfaction levels and academic performance.

The problem: face time

In many online classes, educators hold students accountable for their coursework, but student and peer-to-peer engagement isn’t always a requirement. Because of this, learners often miss out on opportunities to build valuable soft skills like communication and collaboration. Peer review is another great way for students to forge relationships, but because they aren’t physically present in a classroom, it’s difficult for instructors to enable these exercises. Distance learning also makes it harder for educators to provide personalized, timely feedback, which hampers their connection with students.

The solution: video assessment

Most instructors understand the importance of establishing a community in online courses, but they may not have the right tools to foster one. Video-assessment platforms offer a unique solution because they address the issue at a peer-to-peer and student-to-instructor level.

Here are three benefits of video-assessment platforms.

1. Promotes collaboration. Video not only engages students more effectively, but it also enables them to collaborate on group projects and develop soft skills like communication and leadership. Nearly 60 percent of students cite the importance of being able to regularly engage with classmates and instructors during online classes, while 25 percent desire more interaction, according to a recent report.

Video-assessment platforms facilitate these interactions by connecting students face-to-face. For example, if an instructor assigns a group presentation in a speech class, students can connect in real time to create an outline for their presentation, record different parts of their speech on their own time, and stitch them together into one cohesive presentation.

2. Enables peer review. When students review each other’s work on video, it gives them another chance to see a face, hear a voice, and get a glimpse into someone’s personality. Learners might know their peers’ names and even review their work in a normal online course, but seeing them on screen helps forge a deeper connection than they might have otherwise. Exposing students to different perspectives through video also helps them learn new tactics to improve their own performance.

Research shows that collaborating with peers actually motivates students, so they end up being more productive, learning from each other, and producing higher quality work. As an example, students who use video to review each other’s presentations in a speech class get practice giving and receiving feedback, which requires critical thinking and other skills that are important for career success.

3. Increases instructor presence. In online courses, it’s difficult for instructors to connect with students on a personal level because email correspondence can’t replicate the intimate nature of a face-to-face conversation. As a result, many students see educators as just a face behind a screen. Video-assessment platforms make instructors more accessible to everyone, especially students who don’t speak up during class or have learning limitations.

This plays out in several ways. Many video platforms have tools that let students and instructors meet in real time, so learners have an opportunity to ask questions and get additional instruction on the spot. The best video solutions also enable instructors to give personalized feedback in a timely fashion. These are important factors because a study across 23 different online courses found that a “course’s level of interpersonal interaction was the most important factor in predicting grades,” with those in high-interaction courses receiving a full letter grade higher than students in low-interaction courses. Students attributed their higher levels of engagement to the ability to “get to know their teachers despite the physical distance between them”—something they accomplished through video and audio technologies.

In an increasingly digital world, using technology to foster human connections is critical to student success.

About the Author:

Jeff Lewis, Ph.D., is the founder and chief product officer of YouSeeU, creators of an industry-leading soft skill development and video-assessment platform called Bongo. As a tenured business communication professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver, Dr. Lewis is uniquely positioned to develop technology that addresses the needs of instructors and advance the learning experience forward.


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