3.7. Creating Community

In the current disruption and uncertainty, creating community within a course will be more important - and potentially more challenging - than ever. Facilitating classroom community will require thoughtful planning and a concerted effort on the part of the instructor. A few specific, attainable strategies we suggest are:

Connection between instructor and student

  • Collect information about your students, starting on the first day, by asking students to turn in a paper or a google form including things like:
    • Preferred name, pronouns
    • Major 
    • Previous coursework in the area
    • “Is there anything else you’d like me to know about you, or about your circumstances this fall?” (An open-ended question gives them a chance to disclose any particularly challenging circumstances if they wish.)
    • You may also ask for a “Fun fact” to begin to build further personal connections.
  • Share something about yourself: We’re not suggesting that you spend the first week of class sharing your life story, but students often appreciate having a window into their instructor as a human being. 
    • One way to do this is to create a short video where you introduce the course and share some relevant things about yourself. Short videos like this also have the advantage of letting students see you speak without a mask on.
  • Consider requiring students to visit office hours or meet with you one-on-one or in small groups (perhaps via zoom) near the beginning of the semester, in order to get to know students and break down barriers to interaction. 

Connection among students

  • Post an “Opening question” on a shared screen or chalkboard for students to answer as they arrive to class (in the chat or using Poll Everywhere), and then read their classmates’ answers, to help them get to know each other. 
  • Encourage students to be sure they have names and contact information for at least two classmates by the end of the first week. 
  • Make sure that your first day of class includes some interaction in pairs or small groups. This both sets an interactive tone for your class and allows students to connect with each other from day one.
  • Consider forming required small study groups of three or four students to cultivate collaboration and interaction among students. Study groups or teams can prepare collaborative work outside of class; for remote students, these study groups can provide needed interaction with peers.  Consider asking students to record and share their study group meetings with you to show their learning process, document their work or begin a conversation.