Building Belongingness, Community, and Connection in Remote Courses
This site provides information and resources for creating community and connection in your remote course. Although community is created throughout the semester, the following resources focus on the “high opportunity zone” for creating community, which is the period between course registration and the end of week two (Walton & Cohen, 2007). This page expands on our Teaching Talks webinar on Starting Strong in Remote Courses: Cultivating Community from the First Click with updated resources and examples.
Image adapted from Michelle Pacansky-Brock, The Anatomy of Learning and the Importance of Cultivating Care from the First Click
One key difference between in-person and online learning to note is the more central role class time plays in building and heightening community. In an in-person learning experience, students can use transition time before and after class, as well as physical spaces on campus, to check in with you and with each other. In an online learning experience, however, opportunities to interact outside of class time are often more limited. In online learning, synchronous class time has a heightened role in building community because other places of physical proximity are no longer serving that purpose.
(From Build Community in your Online Course, Harvard Teaching and Learning Lab).
Logging into an online course for the first time can feel like walking into an empty classroom, with only a pile of syllabi on a desk (Darby & Lang, 2019). Students may feel confused, alone, or unsure where to start. When students feel a sense of connection and belonging in their classes, they experience increased motivation, engagement, and satisfaction in their courses, which results in greater achievement of learning outcomes. Feeling cared for and connected with others is especially important to enable learning in times of uncertainty and disruption (Build Community in your Online Course, Harvard Teaching and Learning Lab).
When thinking about belongingness, community, and connection in your course, consider how you will:
- welcome students into the course
- orient students to the course
- be present and visible to students during the semester
- encourage students to build connections with each other
- maintain a sense of community throughout the semester
This section offers three strategies to lay the foundation for community and connection in your remote courses. The video provides a brief overview of the three strategies. Additional information, samples, and resources for each strategy are offered below.
1) Record and Post a Welcome Video
A welcome video in your course site can serve multiple purposes, including establishing your presence in the course, helping students get to know you and your interest in the subject, and understand your approach to teaching the course. Consider what you might have told students about yourself and the course during the first 5-10 minutes of the first day of class, and translate that information into a brief welcome video. Prompts you might address include:
- What makes this course interesting or special? What excites you about the subject?
- Who are you outside of your role as an instructor?
- What is your teaching approach in this course?
- Where should students look first within your course site? Where can they find important information?
- What advice do you have for succeeding in this course?
Sample Welcome Videos:
2) Distribute a Get to know You Survey to Students
A Get to Know You Student Survey is a short, online survey designed to help you understand your students’ expectations, needs, challenges, and preferences related to remote learning and your course. You can include questions about your students’ ability to engage in your course (e.g., access to technology or reliable internet) and make adjustments to your plans based on the students’ responses. For more information, see our Create a Get to Know You Student Survey for Remote Courses website.
Sample Get to Know You Surveys:
- Get to Know You Survey, UofG Office of Teaching and Learning
- COVID-19 Instruction Planning Questionnaire Template, Danya Glabau
- Getting to Know You Survey, Michelle Pacansky-Brock
3) Make a Communication Plan for the Semester
The goal of the communication plan is to articulate your expectations about communication within your course, including where students should ask questions, when they can expect responses, how discussion areas and email are monitored, your plans for virtual office hours, and what types of announcements or reminders will be offered throughout the semester. The communication plan supports students’ self-directed learning by offering consistent and reliable communication and support opportunities, and provides a structure for you to manage various online communication channels (e.g., email, discussion boards, CourseLink announcements, Teams/Zoom chat).
Sample Comunication Plans:
- Classroom Tools and Course Communications Plan, John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines, Cornell University
- The Right Communication Plan for your Online Course, Ecampus Course Development and Training, Oregon State University
- Communication and Interaction Plan Strategies, Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence, University of Utah
- Let’s Talk: Effectively Communicating with your Online Students, Humanizing Online Teaching and Learning
- Best Practices for Communicating With Students in Online Classes, School of Professional Studies, Northwestern University
This section offers three strategies to support community and connection early in the semester. The video provides a brief overview of the three strategies. Additional information, samples, and resources for each strategy are offered below.
1) Encourage Student-Student Interactions
Support students with building community through offering varied synchronous and asynchronous opportunities for students to interact with each other, both as a whole class and in small groups or pairs. Our Adapting your Teaching and Learning Activities for the Remote Environment Instructor Planning Guide, available for download on our Course Redesign website, has several strategies for asynchronous and synchronous active learning.
Example strategies include:
- Develop sub-groups or sub-communities by assigning students to small groups for the semester. Students can interact in their small groups on discussion boards, breakout rooms, etc.
- Create opportunities for collaborative learning and thinking, such as collaborative course notes in Google Docs, collaborative concept mapping or brainstorming, or group projects
- Encourage students to show care and concern for one another, such as responding to others in the chat, visual signals with their webcams, using your synchronous platform’s reactions
- Create spaces for students to hear from each other, such as staying after a synchronous class (or starting the session early) session to offer support and informal conversation
- Build Community in your Online Course, Harvard Teaching and Learning Lab
- 6 Strategies for Building Community in Online Courses, K. Patricia Cross Academy
- Active Learning in Online Teaching, Center for Teaching Innovation, Cornell University
- Remote Active Learning, University of Oregon
2) Facilitate Introductions and Informal Ways for Students to Connect and Learn about Each Other
Use ice breakers, discussion starters, unofficial starts, and temperature checks to allow students space to share their thoughts, feelings, or information about themselves. Ice breakers can be related to the course content or completely removed from the course content, with a direct or indirect focus on students’ well-being, energy, motivation, or emotions. Ice breakers should be voluntary. In the remote teaching environment, having a quick ice breaker activity available as students log into the synchronous meeting is a great way to encourage students to attend and utilize the time before the session begins for students to interact and build community. Our University of Guelph instructors have started their Zoom sessions with shared colouring pages, annotated grids asking students how they are feeling, and asking students to decide how they plan to take care of themselves that day. Students can also respond in the chat or in a word cloud generator to open-ended questions, such as the following.
Additional Ice Breaker Strategies:
- Community Building Activities, Equity Unbound
- Ice Breakers for Online Classes, Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo
- Creating a Culture of Connection in Online Courses, Lecture Breakers podcast
3) Create a Course Charter or Learning Pact
Similar to your Communication Plan, a Course Charter or Learning Pact can outline clear expectations that you have of your students, and what expectations they should have of you as the instructor. The charter can establish ground rules and expectations for communication, interaction, and appropriate behaviour for asynchronous and synchronous activities. The charter can be created as a collaborative activity with your students during the first two weeks of class. Establishing clear expectations for behaviour and participation can help to prevent classroom management challenges in the remote environment.
Slide from Anatomy of Learning: Humanizing Challenge, Michelle Pacansky-Brock
Samples of Course Learning Charters:
- Humanizing Online Teaching By Mary Raygoza, Raina León, and Aaminah Norris - Google Docs
- Establishing Classroom Ground Rules, Center for Teaching and Learning, Washington University in St. Louis
To begin making decisions about how you will build community and connection in your remote course, reflect on the following prompts:
- To support the belonging and community needs of my students online, it is important for me to ensure they feel _________.
- One way I do this in my face-to-face classes, which can be translated to the remote environment, is ________.
- One new strategy I could use to do this in my remote course is to _____________.
- One question I still have about creating community is ___________.