In our recent Instructor Engagement Insights survey, we asked: “What advice would you share with an instructor who’s hoping to improve or increase the sense of community in his or her online course?” Below, we’ve shared a number of instructors’ responses, organized under five general themes.

What advice would you share about creating community in online courses? What do you want to know? Share your insights or questions in the comments. 


Get prepared, and make a plan.

Be purposeful, be organized, and be creative when developing your online course. You must think outside the box to develop interactions that will benefit, educate, and challenge learners.
Dr. Gina Bittner, Peru State College (Peru, NE)

Talk to others who teach online; join an online chat group of online instructors.
Mary Ann Thayer, Ph.D., Baker College (Flint, MI)

Think about what activities you would like to do and what format you would like if you were taking the class.
Chad Garick, Jones County Junior College (Ellisville, MS)

Think about your course and identify what gets the best response from the students. Then use that in the next course for a discussion question or even an assignment. Make the material as relevant to their lives as you can. I do understand that sometimes this is very difficult.
Donna McGovern, Golden West College (Huntington Beach, CA)

Be actively involved in the course.

Access. Make yourself as accessible as is reasonable and create group/team opportunities to meet with you, as well. Be as involved in the asynchronous aspects of the course as you expect your students to be.
Kathleen Bates, Brandman University (Irvine, CA)

Be involved in the discussion with the students. Give your experiences and ask clarifying questions.
Fay Foreman, Bluegrass Community and Technical College (Lawrenceburg, KY)

Attempt to connect with students early and provide more detailed feedback than you ever would in a face-to-face class.
—Jonathon Steele, Mid-State Technical College (Stevens Point, WI)

Be in the class multiple times every day to monitor discussions and activities.
—Sandy Keeter, Seminole State College of Florida (Sanford, FL)

Show yourself often and in as many areas of the class as possible; keep these appearances brief and positive.
—Alice Taylor, West Los Angeles College (Culver City, CA)

Be responsive to the students. Set up “friendly” (low-stakes) discussions/activities to ensure the students can use the tools they need.
—Eric Miller, Blinn College (Bryan, TX)

Be open to communicate with students at the time they are studying, even if you stay up late and work in your yoga pants.
—Jenny Dumdei, South Central College (North Mankato, MN)

Plan and design activities that get students interacting.

Assign and monitor projects with multiple parts to groups, and allow each team to assign which parts each person will be held responsible for completion.
—Leverett Butts, West Georgia Technical College (Carrollton, GA)

Create fun activities for the students AND teacher to participate in, especially at the beginning of the quarter as ‘ice breakers’—I do this with my live courses too.
—Maria Dolores Cuevas, Yakima Valley Community College (Yakima, WA)

Ask students the right questions that encourage discussion…they love to answer, share their own experiences, discuss, agree/disagree, etc. All of that communication increases their familiarity with each other and soon they’re hitting it off…it always works!
—Carolyn Carvalho, Kent State University Ashtabula (Ashtabula, OH)

Develop work/study groups for students within the same geographic area, if possible.
—Janice Harder, Motlow State Community College (Lynchburg, TN)

Create as many opportunities for students to interact with each other and with you in the moment as possible.
—Thomas Hernandez, The College at Brockport (Brockport, NY)

I teach psychology and find it helps to use assignments early on that require discussion around personal (but not confidential) experiences and relate them to the text or other material.
—James Rollin, Saginaw Valley State University (University Center, MI)

Keep the collaboration assignments short and simple.
—Phyllis Davis, St. Louis Community College (St. Louis, MO)

Just remember that the online class is your class, you just can’t see who is in your class, but making sure everyone is welcomed and learning is important. Having them critique or answer common case studies is a good way to get to know those in the online class.
—Coleen Jones, Valencia College (Kissimmee, FL)

Cultivate clear and respectful communication.

Have students post intros with photographs and keep that info handy so that you can have a sense of who the students are. Create a table/page that includes student names and photos so that students can see each other’s faces.
—Lisa Ritchie, Harding University (Searcy, AR)

Frame questions that generate multiple views. Ask students to respond to other student’s posts. Model the behavior by sharing information about yourself or your research. It helps to break down barriers.
—Krista R. Feinberg, Lakeland College (Sheboygan, WI)

Lay groundwork and rules of respect and mutual regard. Present discussion questions that do not allow for yes/no answers.
—Theresa J. Jeffries, Gateway Community College (New Haven, CT)

Extend communication beyond e-mail and the discussion board.

Use those discussion boards thoughtfully, not just as an “assignment,” but as a way to really interact. Blogs are good too.
—K. Dawn Grapes, Colorado State University (Fort Collins, CO)

Although it is more work, create activities that require the students to meet online by doing live chats, discussion boards that require posts and responses, encouraging students to get together personally to study.
—Joseph A Menig, Valencia College (Orlando, FL)

Discussion boards are not enough. Incorporate social media.
—Florencia Henshaw, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Urbana, IL)

Force discussions – meaningful discussions. I ask students to explain how each chapter’s content is applied in their life. Students not only see different applications of material, but also feel like they know their classmates better.
—Sara Barritt, Northeast Community College (Norfolk, NE)

Place grade value on the discussion and participation activities; have them conduct peer review activities online–sharing their work and evaluating the work of others.
—Gayle Miller, College of Lake County (Grayslake, IL)

Provide a GREAT Orientation module – with multi-media and lively activities with a scavenger hunt.
—Lisa Volle, PhD, Central Texas College (Killeen, TX)

Return assignment feedback in some audio or audio/visual format – I embed mp3 files on returned papers.
—Teresa F. Collins, Tiffin University (Tiffin, OH)

Keep trying different strategies until you find one that works. Use screencasts to create announcements. Require at least one synchronous session in which you explain the instructions/criteria for a major assignment.
—Ilana Xinos, Southwestern College – Professional Studies (Wichita, KS)