Education

Creating a Dynamic Virtual Learning Environment With Nectir: Part 2

In Part 1 (available here), we covered some of the best practices for setting up and getting started with Nectir in your class. In Part 2, we’re going to talk about some specific ways you can compel your students to use the platform and how to create the right environment for your students to embrace Nectir as an everyday tool in their learning toolbox. In this write-up, we’ll again rely on Jason Duque, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Education and Teacher Education Program at UC Santa Barbara, who has been using Nectir for almost three years. As a pioneer of the platform, he’s accrued a lot of practical experience and insight into ways to use it effectively, so many of the following tips are directly adapted from or inspired by methods that he’s used to great effect. If you’re ready to make Nectir work for you, try this first:

Incorporate Nectir in a Meaningful Way

Nectir is a tool, sure, but when we think of it only in that way, we tend to focus a lot on what it can do functionally and not enough on the desired outcomes of its use. At the end of the day, the entire point of this backchannel is to make it easier to turn a classroom into a community, and when you start to think of it like that, it becomes much easier to imagine ways to use it. To kickstart this, here are some of the ideas that have proven to be effective.

Especially in the beginning, instructors report, the main hurdle is simply encouraging students to think of Nectir as the primary mode of communication, meant to replace some of the more traditional methods. To that end, instructors like Jason Duque have implemented assignments that require Nectir, designed to showcase how much more effective it is for asking questions, sharing info, and staying up to date than the combination of communication tools they traditionally would be using. One specific tactic here is holding graded discussions using Nectir. For these, Jason or his TAs kick off the discussion, but they have found that once the conversation gets rolling, they’re able to sit back and let the students take over. 

It works as a regular activity, but it’s also the perfect way to plant the seeds that will grow into regular usage of Nectir when you’re first starting out. Some similar ideas in this category include holding extra credit discussions at set times throughout the semester, holding virtual office hours in Nectir, and setting time for study sessions ahead of quizzes and exams. One professor came up with the clever idea of using Nectir to give hints about when a pop quiz is coming or what a big exam might cover. And of course, there’s no reason to limit it to one of the above ideas. The more you integrate your backchannel, the better the usage becomes.

When it comes to incorporating Nectir into your curriculum, the key is to make sure it’s top of mind for students and that they get a taste for how effective it can be, and beyond that the possibilities are endless. 

Encourage Students to Answer Each Other's Questions

One of the main advantages of a backchannel like Nectir is the power of peer-to-peer interaction. We love Robert Heinlein’s quote about how education is a two-way street: “When one teaches, two learn.” Instructors experience this constantly, so you already know how true it is. Part of the process of building a community in the classroom is to encourage and facilitate student interactions around the topics and content of the class. In the last section, we talked about Jason Duque’s graded discussions and touched a bit on how they’re an effective way to get students started with Nectir. As a reminder, Jason’s technique for getting the ball rolling is to hold graded discussions initiated by him and his TAs, that ultimately resolve into a lively discussion where the instructor and TAs can take a backseat while the students do the talking.

These activities are excellent for positive educational outcomes, for reasons outlined so concisely by Heinlein. Empowering students to go to each other to talk through the things that they’re struggling with is one of the most effective ways for everyone to learn more. Inevitably some students will fully grasp some concepts and struggle with others, while another set of students will have the opposite experience. When they’re able to easily connect to discuss these topics, that individual knowledge becomes shared knowledge much quicker, and everyone grows as a result. 

The bonus side effect of this approach is that when you give your students a place and a prompt to discuss among themselves, you’ve also given them an alternate avenue for questions, which will inevitably free up more time for the instructor and TAs.

Maintain Continuity by Being Present and Consistent

Once you’ve drawn them in and they’ve seen the power of the platform, it’s critical to keep the momentum going with regular activities and by consistently being available to your students there. If students are using it to ask questions, answer them in a timely manner so they know they’ll get help quickly if they use Nectir to ask. When students ask questions through direct message or otherwise outside of public channels, repost the questions that are relevant to the entire class without any identifying information, because if one student needed guidance on it, you can bet there are more who will benefit from seeing your answer. This is another way to facilitate impromptu discussions, and it indicates to the class that if they have questions, Nectir is the best place to get them answered quickly and thoroughly. 

Before you know it, students will abandon email, text, or the worst case: not asking at all, and they’ll start to think of Nectir as the obvious choice for all class communication.

Use Your Community Manager

We said this in Part 1, but it’s such an important point that we want to reiterate. One of the most useful features in your school's Nectir workspace is the community manager, a real Nectir representative who is available to you and your students any time to answer questions. Whether it’s about setup, onboarding, creating activities, maintaining momentum, troubleshooting problems, or anything else, we’re here for you. You can directly message your community manager by searching for "Nectir Staff." 

We hope this series has been helpful in getting you and your students started with building a dynamic learning community in the classroom. If you're stuck on any part or just need some inspiration, feel free to reach out to us through our live chat at any time and a Nectir Community Manager will be happy to chat with you.

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