Dr. Jennifer HumberDr. Jennifer Humber, assistant professor in the Department of Consumer Sciences and director of the graduate certificate program in Conflict Resolution, submitted her advice for building community in online courses:

In online courses, creating a sense of community and engagement is often less of an obstacle than one might believe. Students tend to highly value interaction with classmates and direct communication with faculty. Even the simplest efforts can create a community of learning and thoughtful interaction.

  • Record a Welcome Video. In a brief message, introduce yourself along with key elements and expectations about the course. Consider sharing visuals, which might include pictures of your favorite destinations, family or fur babies, or even share a personal story that helps students relate to the importance of the course content.
  • Incorporate Discussion Threads. Use tools like Padlet, Flip and other discussion forums. Required participation in discussion threads motivates students to interact with other classmates in a less structured environment. Participation in an initial introduction post has proven to be a key indicator of students’ willingness to thoughtfully engage with others. Throughout the course, encourage students to further discuss content by sharing relevant visuals, personal stories or article references.
  • Provide Frequent Communication. At the beginning of the term, I devote time to pre-scheduling announcements that will be delivered in the future. Announcements may involve helpful resources, assignment reminders or simple encouragement! Just as within any community, developing trust and respect is extremely important; for online learners, this perception is often enhanced through timely responses to emails and thoughtfully graded assessments that include substantive feedback and encouragement.
  • Offer Synchronous Opportunities. At times, usually before an exam or large project, I will offer virtual meetings or review sessions to answer students’ questions in a real-time environment. I have often recorded review sessions if students were interested but unable to attend. Students appreciate hearing others’ questions and gaining varying perspectives.