Building community and establishing a class culture
“The forcing of interaction can be as strong a detriment to effective learning [as is] its absence.” – M. Simonson (2000). Myths and distance education: What the research says (and does not).
Just as important as your course content is the sense of community- this will determine whether and how much students engage with the content, so it is very important to build a class community that motivates students to engage with the content and each other. This is feasible to do whether your course is meeting synchronously or asynchronously by using some of the following techniques.
While you may be used to introducing yourself in a classroom the same can be accomplished through a brief recorded video or even with a combination of this and some writing. Consider sharing:
- about yourself, your values and your enthusiasm for the topic you’re teaching
- about your (past) struggles with the course content and how you have been successful
- the explicit expectation that with focus and effort every student can succeed in your course
- At every step of the way explain how students can succeed.
Continued Introductions and creating an inviting online course:
- For synchronous courses, consider logging on a few minutes early and/or staying on a few minutes late to chat with students, or allowing them to mingle with each other.
- For asynchronous courses you can still offer potential live times to come together and connect whether it is office hours or grouping students by time zone to connect.
- Emulate the routines of in-person classes with introductions to the topics and expectations of each week’s materials. Consider doing this in multiple ways including:
- Beginning-of-the-week conversational emails like “Welcome to week 1,” “Welcome to week 2,” etc which share an overview of the content and expectations for the week.
- Check in with students by asking everyone to share briefly how they are feeling this week. This can be done in a few short words in the chat (synchronous) or in a discussion thread (asynchronous).
- Be present. Online courses can take just as much time and effort as in-person courses. Simply lecturing at students for the duration of a course is not best practice and is not advised. Your continued presence, creativity, adaptability, reading and responding to posts and emails is the strongest influence of continued student engagement.
Allow multiple ways for students to share
- Use the chat feature on zoom for synchronous courses to allow people to check in briefly; more students are likely to share this way.
- For asynchronous courses allow posts to be written, video, visual and even memes.
Take time for icebreakers at the beginning of the class whether synchronous or asynchronous. This can include:
- Intro videos: Posting intro videos of themselves. You can also encourage students to comment on their peer’s videos.
- Fun Questions: Answering a fun question and/or a question relevant to your course content
- Collage: Post a collage of five pictures that best describe themselves
- 8 Nouns: 8 nouns that best describe themselves
- Two truths and a lie: students must post two truths about themselves and one lie and classmates have to guess which item is untrue
- Song: students share a song that describes the state of their life these days, or simply a song they really like
- More examples here
Establish and maintain expectations for engagement
Expectations for student engagement in your online course should be stated specifically and reviewed periodically in ways that encourage students’ success.
- Start with setting a welcoming and inviting tone. How can you pique your student’s curiosity? How can you make it so students want to know what comes next? How can you make engaging with your specific course content and each other exciting?
- If teaching synchronously, expectations to mute when not speaking and to say your name before speaking (especially in a larger class) are best practice, as is turning on video. However- expectations must be flexible- many students have reasons why they cannot unmute or use their video including low bandwidth internet access, sharing space with others, caring for others, etc.
- Regardless of the design of your course, see The New School’s guidance on Meaningful Participation in Online Courses and communicate your expectations with students clearly and often: