Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions / Unsplash

Building Better Remote Classroom Experiences

How can you build affective association in your virtual classroom to improve the engagement of your students.


Table of Contents

It seems a foregone conclusion that virtual learning is subpar compared to in-person learning. That couldn't be further from the truth, however. Most of what students, teachers, and families have experienced is emergency learning. Emergency learning is putting content in a virtual space. Emergency learning is not a well-designed learning experience. Well-designed virtual learning experiences are as effective or more effective than in person learning (Bhagat et al., 2016; Miller et al., 2018). Part of the challenge is that educators haven't been given the skills to build well-designed virtual learning experiences. This series of posts will give you some practical tools for tweaking your virtual environment to be engaging for your students.

“Together, we create!” on brick wall
Photo by "My Life Through A Lens" / Unsplash

If you'd like to skip the explanation and get to the how-to part of this, click here.

These strategies are based on Whiteside and Dikkers Social Presence Model (2012). Social presence is believing that the person on the other side of a screen or keyboard is a real person. In their paper "Maximizing Multicultural Online Learning Experiences with the Social Presence Model, Course Examples, and Specific Strategies" (2012), they provide five areas that improve online learning experiences - affective association, instructor investment, community cohesion, knowledge and experience, and interaction intensity. Each post will explore practical applications of the portion of the model that you can use to increase engagement in your online classroom.

Affective Association

Affective association is emotional connection. It might seem like students making jokes and sharing gifs and memes is not beneficial or is off-task behavior, it's actually helping build engagement in your virtual classroom.

Affective association includes:

  • Emotion
  • Humor
  • Paralanguage
  • Self-disclosure

Emotion and humor might be obvious, but paralanguage might be an unfamiliar term. Paralanguage are the nonverbal ways we communicate like a gasp or body language or a shifting glance. The way we communicate that online looks like this:


We use gifs or cHaNgE text or fonts to convey meaning. The use of paralanguage isn't just for fun, it's also building layers of communication and affective association.

Last is self-disclosure. Self-disclosure is when  someone shares details about their life outside the class or expresses vulnerability. As long as the vulnerability isn't mocked or punished, this can build psychological trust that feeds into community cohesion.

What are practical ways to include affective association in your virtual classroom?

  1. Let them use gifs: Whether you show them how to create their own gifs or use a tool like Giphy, bringing in the dynamic emotion and paralanguage that can be expressed with gifs is a quick and easy way to build affective association.
  2. Make a random channel discussion board: Create a discussion board specifically for random discussion. We use this in my work as a software developer in our organization Slack. It's a place for folks to share a joke they saw, a good YouTube video, or just check in with other members of the community. This also helps with community cohesion which we'll talk about in a future post.
  3. Model emotion and humor: Expressing emotion and humor that's appropriate for the space might require some practice and an adult to guide them and provide examples. Share resources and model appropriate humor and emotions in discussions/chat with students.
  4. Let them: As educators we're often quick to redirect what we view as off-topic or unnecessary chat or comments. However, in the virtual space chance, passing encounters don't happen. We have to be intentional about our communication.  So let them go off-topic. Redirect to the random discussion/channel when needed.

What are ways you can build affective association in your classroom?

Over the next days and weeks we'll look at the other parts of the Social Presence Model and give you more ways to make your virtual classroom even better.


Bhagat, K.B., Chang, C-N., & Chang, C-Y. (2016). The Impact of the Flipped Classroom on Mathematics Concept Learning in High School. Educational Technology & Society, 19(3), 134–142.

Miller, Carver, J. S., & Roy, A. (2018). To Go Virtual or Not to Go Virtual, That is the Question. Journal of College Science Teaching, 48(2), 59–67.

Whiteside, A. L., & Dikkers, A. G. (2012). Maximizing multicultural online learning experiences with the social presence model, course examples, and specific strategies. Computer-Mediated Communication across Cultures, 395–413.

educationcanvasvirtual learning

webs Twitter

webs was in education for nearly 10 years. she left education and became a software developer. she’s currently a senior product owner at edmentum as well as the founder of studio w on w.