Laptops as College Campuses
During this extraordinary academic year, where recent high school graduates found themselves attending college from home and not being able to participate in dorm life or other aspects of the first-year experience for one or more quarters, building classroom community was even more important than ever. Over summer 2020, I contacted former students to ask them to serve as peer educators in my CTW sections to help students get to know one another. Based on interest surveys and self-introduction videos, I created study groups led by the peer educators, who held Zoom sessions outside of class on course readings and classroom assignments to establish a warm, supportive online environment. To help everyone feel comfortable participating in our written forums and oral discussions, I had students work together in our first synchronous class sessions to create “discussion guidelines” that we would all follow to facilitate an effective learning experience for all.
This spring, I am continuing the practices that I began in CTW 1. Many of my students are now in dorms or in private housing near campus. Some of the friendships begun in CTW 1 have flourished with students sharing accommodation or logging on to our CTW 2 Zoom calls together. To help those who are still taking classes from their hometowns feel connected, we are also continuing to use the first few minutes of class time to discuss ways we are connecting to campus. Students discuss clubs that they have joined and we report on events that we have attended or that are coming up. Additionally, for CTW 1 and 2, I require students to write about at least one uTurn activity that they have participated in and they can gain extra credit by attending other campus events such as those related to anti-racism or by submitting their story to SCU in Quarantine.
Other changes that I have made to foster community include changes in my curriculum. I now assign an “educational autobiography” in CTW 1 to help me understand more deeply students’ prior experiences with literacy, and I assign an essay in CTW 2 on how they have grown as college students to help me understand some of the challenges they have faced during the pandemic. Having students peer edit each other’s work enables them to not only provide one another feedback on their writing but also to realize that they are not alone in their struggles and that others have also experienced similar challenges. Helping students integrate their experiences inside and outside the classroom exemplifies my understanding of cura personalis.
About the Contributor
Theresa Conefrey teaches oral and written communication courses and carries out research on high-impact practices such as ePortfolios. Through her research, she hopes to help all learners reach their full potential.