In addition to the educational opportunities that broaden students’ intellectual horizons, college life provides a number of opportunities designed to bring students together and broaden their social horizons. Take a look at a bulletin board on a traditional college campus, and you’ll find numerous flyers promoting concerts, guest lectures, movies, club activities, and other enjoyable events that give them the chance to meet other like-minded individuals. Likewise, the periods of time before and after classes offer students the chance to set up a less formal get-together, such as a study group for the big exam or an afternoon game of basketball.

However, in an online setting, students lack these natural opportunities to get to know one another in person; therefore, they need to be especially intentional about building the types of relationships that can help them succeed. If you teach an online course, and you’re concerned about helping your students feel that they are part of a lively and engaged community, you can facilitate activities that help achieve this goal.

In the Instructor’s Manual for Plugged In: Succeeding as an Online Learner, Joel English offers some questions that can spark conversation and acquaint students with one another. This activity can take place during a live class session, or you can post these questions to your LMS discussion board.

Students should introduce themselves to each other near the beginning of the course. Plan to devote a full online or traditional discussion where students introduce themselves and talk about their homes, backgrounds, interests, and families. Give the chance (and possibly require) other people to ask each student questions about their background to begin building community among learners. It is essential that students see the online classroom as a place where people are, and not simply as a Web site where they post assignments. Begin the course by engaging students in communication online so they begin to visualize the characters that are in class with them. Make sure that you, as an instructor, model a detailed introduction of yourself. (English, pp. 5-6)

Reference: English, Joel A. Online Instructor’s Manual to accompany Plugged In: Succeeding as an Online Learner. 2014. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Do you have a favorite community-building activity for use in the online classroom? We may feature your idea on the blog at a later date!

For additional ideas for building community in your online program, review our previous post “Enhancing the Complete Educational Experience for All Students,” which links to a webinar during which Will White, Shannon McGurk, and Joel English of Centura College discuss their approach to promoting engagement and retention among their online student population.