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"What’s your good news?" Increasing cohesion in an online course

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I read with interest a recent journal article on the benefits of having students share some good news from their lives. This study was done in a face-to-face class, but I’m wondering about the implications for online students.

Courtney Gosnell at Pace University randomly assigned her students to share good news with their classmates eight to ten times over the course of a term. Those who felt like they got the most support from their classmates reported “a greater sense of class belonging,” a “stronger belief that their classmates wanted them to succeed,” “greater college identification,” and “greater satisfaction with college life.” And, interestingly, they “also approached the class with more of a challenge mindset” (Gosnell, 2019).

Given that the students who got the most benefit from sharing their good news were the ones who felt the most supported, the question is how to help students feel more supported. Gosnell (2019) suggested giving students a little training on what an “active constructive response” is, such as that described by this Woods and colleagues article (2015). These researchers presented pairs of people who shared a close relationship—romantic or platonic—with a 20-minute training on how better to give and respond to, well, good news, “including verbal (e.g., energetic voice, positive feedback, and ask specific questions) and nonverbal (e.g., smile, raise eyebrows, nod, and face body toward partner) examples of active–constructive responding.”  

This term I am asking my face-to-face students to share some good news with their groups during our first class session of the week. But these aren’t the students I’m concerned about.

It’s my online students that I would like to feel more connected to each other, to me, and to the college.

Since my online students have a weekly discussion board (one initial post and two responses) that is pretty prescriptive in its requirements, it wasn’t hard for me to wedge in a good news requirement. Here are the instructions for the first part of their initial post.

Part A: Good news from the last week

What's the most positive experience you’ve had in the last week. Only share if you feel comfortable, otherwise tell us about your second most positive experience. It could be big (“I got an A on an assignment!”, “I got a car!”) or it could be small (“I have a new favorite dessert,” "My grocery bag broke, and someone helped me pick everything up."). Tell as much as you want about your event.

For the response, everything in the nonverbal section that Woods and colleagues (2015) identified I could safely exclude from this online forum. For the verbal, I went with a reaction (presumably positive since the person is sharing good news) and a question. Here are the response instructions for this section of the discussion.

Part A: Good news from the last week

Share your reaction to their good news, e.g., "I am so happy for you!", "It sounds like you had a lot of fun!", then ask at least one follow up question, "What kind of car did you get?", "What was in your new favorite dessert?". 

We’re only a few weeks into the term, so my sample is small, but I’ve been having a lot of fun reading their good news and their responses to the good news of other students. Through sharing good news, we’re getting to know each other better. I already know who likes football, who plays soccer, who enjoys shopping for dresses, who has struggles with transportation, who likes cheesecake, and who has a new job. Whatever someone shares, the responses to their good news feel genuine. While the questions are required, (most of) the questions come across as legitimate interest. Many students provide a follow-up in response to the questions asked, which I’m grateful for, because I often have the same questions.

While I don’t participate in the group discussion, I do score the discussions. In my comments, I offer my own reaction to their good news, ask a question, and then give my good news for the week.

Near the end of the course I’ll ask my students about how connected they felt to the others in their groups and to me. I’m especially interested in seeing if more students persist in the course than has been true in my previous online courses.

What’s your good news?

 

References

Gosnell, C. L. (2019). Receiving quality positive event support from peers may enhance student connection and the learning environment. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1037/stl0000178

Woods, S., Lambert, N., Brown, P., Fincham, F., & May, R. (2015). “I’m so excited for you!” How an enthusiastic responding intervention enhances close relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 32(1), 24–40. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407514523545

1 Comment
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Sue, 

Thanks for this idea! I’m implementing this in my online classes this week, and it will also use it as a low-stakes activity for Health Psych this summer, maybe even having the students collect some basic data. It’s a great example of a Health-Psych intervention that students can both experience first hand and then apply to their work setting. 
I’m so glad you took the time to read the Gosnell (2019) article and share your inspiration with us! This was one of those articles whose titles that I merely scanned, then promptly filed away in my “Read later” folder, not realizing its potential, especially at this early point in the quarter.

About the Author
At Highline College near Seattle, Sue Frantz is working on her third decade in the psychology college classroom. Throughout her career, she has been an early adopter of new technologies in which she saw pedagogical potential. In 2009, she founded her blog, Technology for Academics. The blog features both new tech tools and tips for using not-so-new tools effectively. She currently serves as Vice President for Resources for APA Division 2: Society for the Teaching of Psychology. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. In 2016, she received the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. As the newest contributor to the Instructor Resource Manual for the David Myers and Nathan DeWall Introduction to Psychology textbooks, she is excited to bring teaching resources to you in this venue.