Building Community Online

Informal check-ins with students about remote instruction reveal that they often struggle to connect with other students in the online environment. Faculty, too, can seem less approachable online. Thus, taking time to intentionally build community in virtual courses can be essential in helping students persist and succeed.

During the shift to remote instruction in 2020 occasioned by COVID-19, the FDC hosted a series of programs to help faculty cultivate a sense of community during online instruction. Below we share the resources from those sessions. Please note that a UMBC login is required to access these resources.

Research-Based Ideas for Building Community Online

  • Create a welcome that allows students to see you and your class
  • Explain why it’s important to create a classroom community
  • Cultivate a real, human presence in class and demonstrate care and support
  • Share personal and professional stories
  • Show up to class and communicate frequently with introductions, reminder, and recaps
  • Create activities that promote peer-to-peer interaction
  • Develop multi-modal skills: integrate chat and use breakouts
  • Design and teach for cultural inclusion
  • Facilitate interactions by limiting lecture time

Building Community Online from Day One

Key to students’ motivation and learning is a feeling of connectedness to the class–to the instructor, to other students, and to content. Such feelings foster engagement–an essential element for students to succeed. For many of us creating that sense of community seems easier when we can meet with our students face-to-face. How can we establish connection online? In this session, faculty discussed ways to structure student interactions, demonstrate and manage their presence in the class, teach for inclusion, and convey caring and support in their online course. Faculty read one of the following two book chapters to prepare for the discussion:

  • Chapter 4: “Building Community” from Small Teaching Online by Flower Darby with James Lang–provides a few key ideas to help you think through the process (Available as an ebook through the AOK library)
  • Chapter 6: “Developing Interactivity, Social Connection, and Community” from Online Teaching at Its Best by Linda Nilson and Ludwika Goodson–provides a deeper dive into these issues and links to resources (Available as an ebook through the AOK library)

Discussion Questions

The discussion was structured around the following guiding questions:

  1. What do you do on the first day to let students know your class is a safe place, a welcoming space, and to establish a sense of a supportive learning community?
  2. Creating presence in an online environment is important to building community. What do/will you do to foster student-to-student interaction and student-to-instructor interactions (or student to content)?
  3. Based on what we have discussed and what you have learned from the readings, what is one small change you can make to build community in your classes? How will you implement this change? What training/support do you need to implement this change (e.g. DoIT program, FDC consultation)?


Sustaining Community: Cultivating Connection in the Virtual Classroom

We know from the research on learning that experiencing a sense of belonging and connection in our classes is essential for students to engage and persevere. How can we help our students feel the human connection in the disembodied online classroom? In earlier sessions, we explored creating social presence in our online courses to motivate students. In this session, faculty discussed ways to foster authentic connection by crafting meaningful student interactions, communicating our support, and cultivating a community of connected individuals in the virtual classroom. Faculty read the following articles to preparation for the discussion:

Discussion Questions

The discussion was structured around the following guiding questions:

  1. What are the barriers to creating student-to-student connection online? How do we anticipate, recognize, and work around them?
  2. Drawing on the articles and your personal experience, what worked best for you to get students to connect with one another? Please provide specific examples.
  3. What will you use from our discussion and/or the articles to enhance student-to-student interaction in your courses?


Additional Resources

As you consider how to build and sustain community in your courses, please consider the following additional resources:

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