An effective online learning environment cannot be sustained without the development of a learning community. Students must be engaged and feel that their voices are not only being heard, but are a key component of the instruction. In an online grammar classroom, students must also fulfill the need for a social connection—they should feel that they are coming to class, just as they would to a seated course on campus (Palloff & Pratt, 2007). In my online Grammar 382 class, students make connections through shared ideas and thoughts, and they establish a sense of presence through the online learning community by creating student-generated videos. These videos transform the learning process and allow students to work collaboratively to create an online mini-lesson on any grammatical topic taught during the semester. While lessons are based on skills taught in class, students metacognitively begin to think as teachers. Over the years, I have found that when students take ownership of the material presented online, they enjoy the process even more.
I have allowed students in my online Grammar 382 course to pick from any topic we have discussed throughout the semester. I have found that when students have greater autonomy, the interest in the project and levels of creativity are higher. Over the semesters, I have seen topics ranging from homonyms, proper pronoun usage of the objective case me, and identifying noun clauses to enhance formal writing. Students know that their goal is to identify a topic and start thinking about how they would teach the lesson. I require students to follow a lesson plan template I give them, as many of my students are preservice teachers. While preservice teachers are familiar with lesson plans and know how to identify goals and objectives, I do expect students to follow the given structure. I prefer students to follow the same template so projects can be relatively uniform. The template I provide includes an outline, an overarching objective, an introduction of the lesson, specific objectives outlining what the teacher will accomplish, procedures for conducting the lesson plan, and a closing/evaluation process. For my online Grammar 382 class, I like students to have this structure in place so there is less confusion and frustration. When I can anticipate their questions and provide a format that is easily followed, students can move more quickly into the filming stages. The last thing I discuss is time. I require the final product to be at least seven minutes long, but not longer than ten minutes. I also want them to narrate, edit, and present a polished piece. This requires planning. I often give my students a planning day so they can get together and iron out logistics.
My online grammar students typically record their videos using their iPhones so they can transfer them to iMovies and later edit. They have portability and transferability with this format, and students are proficient with editing skills. Once the video has been filmed, the student-editor begins the revision process. In Canvas, we have several locations for uploading media files. However, students typically collaborate and express what parts need to be deleted and what parts should be saved before they send me the final product. I encourage students to send me a rough draft file or share a YouTube link, as groups tend to work independently on various mediums. Once I have reviewed their draft, I encourage students to include narrator voices, type text in the introduction and conclusion, and add music to enhance the final product. The structure of the videos typically includes an introduction, the lesson plan, and then an evaluation part, which lets students reflect on the project and what they have learned. The final videos are like mini-movies in which students are the actors on their own shows.
Typically, one student is assigned to be the producer and shoots the entire video while the group teaches the lesson. Students have created videos speaking into the camera from their bedrooms, living rooms, classrooms, or any convenient location. I do not mind the background as long as the video is instructional. Students will add text directly to the video so that the words appear on the screen at appropriate moments. Often, students have the words appear on the screen in a motion effect on the video, or the words appear to fly in. Students love this part because they can create a polished piece that has personality and flare.
While this can be a challenging assignment, I have discovered that not only do students enjoy working with each other, but they also build a community of learning during this process. I require students to share the final product with their peers, and I expect them to use the rubric provided on Canvas. While I assign final grades, students give positive feedback, which is helpful during the revision stage. Students can access videos directly on Canvas or create a YouTube link for others to access. Sharing the final video production works especially well for preservice teachers who are looking to build a repository for future lessons.
What I enjoy the most about these culminating video productions is the sense of pride that the students have when we watch them. In my online grammar classes, I reserve the last day of the semester as movie day. We watch, laugh, and enjoy the final products. Students comment on how much they enjoy seeing themselves on screen, but secretly, they have a strong sense of accomplishment. This is such an amazing product because students work hard to exceed my expectations. I am thrilled with their collaboration, creativity, and professionalism.
For me, success means providing online students with the opportunity to build on the lessons discussed in the semester and turn them into creative masterpieces. I love that this assignment requires students to think like teachers and gives them the opportunity to engage in digital media, which reinforces knowledge and allows students to share goals and explore ideas (Palloff & Pratt, 2007).
Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (2007). Building online learning communities: Effective strategies for the virtual classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Elizabeth Elam is a lecturer in English education at Longwood University.