Connecting Students and Teachers for Better Learning

We are really excited about the potential of student-centered learning to make education more productive (listen to our latest podcast to hear more). By connecting to passions and encouraging a sense of urgency and ownership, we can create an experience for students that feels both exciting and meaningful. The relationship between educators and students is key to making this work. Students not only have to feel valued and respected, but they also need to have a genuine trust in their guides (be it teachers, mentors, parents, etc).

More and more school communities, like New Zealand’s largest university, The University of Auckland are identifying the need to build relationships between students and teachers and Getting Smart Advocacy Partner, Instructure is striving to meet that need through their learning management system, Canvas.

In this blog, that first appeared on Extra Credit: The Canvas Blog, Jared Stein, VP of Research and Education at Instructure shares their recently released report and dives into how meaningful relationships are AND how interactions have a direct correlation to positive learning outcomes.

Jared Stein

Who was your favorite teacher? Almost everyone can recall at least one teacher who really made a difference. And usually that teacher was someone who really reached out, who made a connection with you, who changed up the lecture-and-listen format of class and helped you connect with other students, or to the subject matter in a meaningful, personal way.

Research demonstrates that a sense of social connection can improve learning. In fact, activities that bring students together — like peer tutoring and cooperative learning — have shown a marked increase of up to 75% greater performance on assessments. Teachers who support student-centered learning in this way often make a bigger impact on students’ lives and education than teachers who remain aloof or apart from their students.

A sense of separation from a teacher (and other students) can happen pretty easily in an online environment. It can take a special effort on the part of online teachers to become a “favorite teacher”. David Wiley noted that the impersonal nature of the web is not only easy to slip into, it is sometimes designed into the way LMSs direct pedagogy:

“With the pile of philosophical, conceptual, and empirical evidence showing the social nature of learning and the importance of human relationships (particularly the relationship between teacher and student) in learning and wellbeing, why are we working so hard to automate away any opportunity for these relationships to exist?”

But the truth is that there are a myriad of ways that teachers and students can create digital connections in online classes. A new paper from the Research and Education Department — “Increased Social Connectedness through Digital Peer Learning” — explores several ways that Canvas supports social learning, including:

  • Peer Tutoring
  • Reciprocal Teaching
  • Cooperative Learning

From our report:

“Research shows these interactive and community-building activities positively impact student satisfaction and success. More importantly, these activities have documented success with improving learning outcomes. Canvas has unique capabilities that enable peer learning practices, such as peer tutoring, reciprocal teaching, and cooperative learning; and it can make the digital learning environment more meaningful for student-teacher connectedness.”

We’re releasing this work on the heels of our Student-centered Learning Glossary, which outlines the wide array of choices teachers have in designing creative, student-centered learning exercises. Both the glossary and our social connectedness white paper–as well as other work on online course design and lossless learning–can be found on by visiting the “Stories” section of our K-12 and Higher Ed  pages.

You can read the full white paper here.

For more on Canvas:

Jared Stein is Vice President of Research and Education at Instructure. Follow him on twitter,

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Getting Smart loves its varied and ranging staff of guest contributors. From edleaders, educators and students to business leaders, tech experts and researchers we are committed to finding diverse voices that highlight the cutting edge of learning.

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