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Building a learning community

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Instructor-student and student-student interaction is critical component to success is an online class - actually, it's probably critical to any type of learning experience. Online classes can be isolating but this can be alleviated with focus on incorporating some of the aspects that are more natural in person but are more forced online. Building a learning community where students are comfortable and confident is integral to your student's learning experience and their overall success.

1. General guidelines to build community

  1. Be available - Your presence sets the tone for the whole class. While you do not need to be available all the time, provide a schedule of when you and your teaching team will be available for questions. If you're using asynchronous communication, include when this will be monitored.
  2. Provide opportunities for interaction - Discussions, collaborative projects and presentations, and peer review are common ways to foster interaction not only instructor to student, but student to student.
  3. Consistently refer to the "why" - There's a reason students are taking your class, but this message can get lost in the everyday. Keep them on track by referring to this larger narrative. This refers not only to the course content but also to the course design decisions you have made. 
  4. Ask for - and act on - student feedback- Be open to feedback and ready to act on it if something is not working as you had hoped. Not only will feedback help you improve the course, it will help students feel more engaged. Even if you cannot implement everything, by discussing it, you are letting them be part of the process and helping them to understand the context of the situation.

2. Getting Started

Consider using the suggestions below to implement the above guidelines:

  1. Offer online office hours for one-to-one sessions using a webinar tool (see which webinar tool should I use and when?). Offering a connection point that allows students a chance to meet with you directly, even for a short period of time, is a relationship and confidence builder.
  2. Foster a great online discussion by establishing participation expectations and providing prompts for the discussions (see Creating and Managing Discussions).
  3. Consider a mix of course modalities (see choosing your course modality) to provide a variety of ways for people to interact (including how to prepare for and moderate synchronous sessions).
  4. Showcase great examples - If a student does something great, share it with the class (with their permission) (you could share this via an announcement or during a course session).
  5. Incorporate an active learning activity (see Vanderbilt's Pedagogies & Strategies for Interactive Lecturing and Active Learning).

Some content on this page was modified from CTSI's Teaching Online/Remotely - Planning for Next Term.

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