Your virtual classroom can foster a sense of community by including items that represent both your and your students’ backgrounds.
By Catharyn Shelton
Courtesy of Nadia EchevarriaNadia Echevarria’s virtual classroom includes images of objects that are meaningful to her and her students.
You finally finished your Bitmoji classroom, taking part in what might be one of the biggest K–12 teaching trends in 2020. You color-coordinated your digital bulletin board, office chair, and pencil cup, and your ABC garland is perfectly hung. The process may or may not have taken five hours longer than you expected, but your final product might help students navigate your online class a little better, it may actually look like your brick-and-mortar classroom (impressive!), or it might simply have given you joy to create.
I am a professor of educational technology who has discussed Bitmoji at length with my own students who are current or future K–12 teachers. I’ve come to believe that in spite of the critiques of Bitmoji classrooms, there is value in them. Yes, they risk being trite, visually overwhelming, or a waste of time, and the Bitmoji program profits from users’ personal data.
These are concerns that deserve serious consideration. At the same time, well-done virtual classrooms can be an effective way to build community, engage students online, and enact culturally responsive pedagogies. But doing it right requires some serious thought. Your virtual classroom may be cute, but does it convey meaningful, functional, inclusive, and culturally responsive pedagogy?
Before diving in, head to Edutopia’s recent Bitmoji article for basics on how to create a virtual classroom. Then return here for guidance on thinking critically about what your classroom should include to be good for all students, particularly your most vulnerable ones.
5 QUESTIONS TO ASK WHEN CREATING A VIRTUAL CLASSROOM
1. What is the learning purpose of my virtual classroom? A clear objective or question is at the center of effective learning, whether online or in person. What do you want your virtual classroom to support your students in doing or knowing? Virtual classrooms can be used to set expectations and norms, support relationship building, and offer students clickable virtual libraries. (Be careful with copyrighted material. Some publishers, such as Scholastic’s Learn At Home Library, have begun to offer free, open-access books during the pandemic.) For example, my student Lindsay Hoel created different virtual classroom pages, like the one below, for targeted purposes.