Virtual environments provide a variety of approaches to fostering meaningful and accessible connections.
- Create a balance between both formal and informal approaches. A formal approach might be designing a peer-review assignment. An informal approach might be having a place for open discussion within your course.
- Encourage rapport through the language you use and questions you ask learners. Maybe you include an anonymous poll at the beginning of each class or week.
- Every group of students is different so you may consider a few different approaches. Setting the conditions and providing a place for easy sharing are useful starting points.
- While the virtual environment is different, consider what has worked for your courses in the past. Is there something that you could try that would help foster community and would translate well to the online space?
Need help coming up with online community building activities? Consider the examples below.
Canvas Asynchronous Discussions
Canvas Discussions offer a space where students can share thoughts through text, audio, or video. Including an informal discussion in your course can foster a sense of community. Invite students to submit images of their favorite things. Or have them make a short video they feel exemplifies who they are and what they like.
Create teams or small groups (3-5 students) to complete meaningful academic assignments. First, be sure the group work aligns with the assignment goals. Students will want to know why they are being asked to work in groups. Depending upon the intended outcomes, provide students with the resources and tools they need to be successful. If they are struggling the facilitator/instructor needs to know what the group needs to overcome their challenges. At the end of the task, utilize a feedback exercise of some sort that will provide meaningful and actionable feedback to everyone on the team.
Choose Your Own Assignment
Foster collaboration and agency in your course by having students design an assignment. Share the basic parameters and expectations and then have groups of students design the rest of the assignment. They can then share their assignment in a discussion to be put to a vote. The assignment that wins the most votes then becomes the official assignment.
One way to create community is to envision what the principles of that community would be and set those expectations up front with a Community Statement. It’s valuable to personalize your community statement and to let students know how to share any concerns that may arise. You may consider asking students to suggest additional norms as well. For more statement examples and ideas about norms see Diversity & Inclusion Syllabus Statements (Sheridan Center) and Safe/Brave Space Policy (Art+Feminism). This is one Brown-specific example:
- Commitment to an Inclusive and Respectful Learning Community | At Brown University, we strive for a sense of community in which the growth and learning of all members is advanced through the cultivation of mutual respect, tolerance, and understanding. Brown University values a socially responsible community within which a spirit of free inquiry and individuality may flourish while also promoting the honest, open, and equitable engagement with racial, religious, gender, ethnic, sexual orientation and other differences. The University seeks to promote an inclusive environment that is integral to the academic, educational and community purposes of the institution.In that spirit, this course aims to build an inclusive and equitable learning community where differences are valued and respected, and students feel both supported and challenged. We ask you to uphold the principles of the University community as you engage in all aspects of the course.
Learn more: Principles of the Brown University Community
Using Design Approaches like Gamification
Gamification is a design methodology that can foster community and engagement in unique ways because the principles of the approach focus on motivation. Gamification is the process of using game mechanics and game thinking in non-game contexts. So in this case, a course would be the non-game context and game mechanics are the game elements the learner engages with to “play” within your course. Some examples of game mechanics are avatars, progress bars, points, signposts, story narrative, and items.
Gamification design can be applied to the entire course or just a component (ex: a single assignment or maybe a multi-week project). With this approach, your course becomes game-like in nature, but is not fully a game. In order to figure out what mechanics are the right ones to use, you would consider the following:
- The learning goals
- The students in your course (what motivates them as individuals)
- The overall experience you are creating
One of the easiest ways to start is to use a gamelike framework that already exists (ex: escape room or fantasy sports) and design the experience within that. The Digital Learning & Design Team can also provide resources on how to design with this approach. Professor Jim Egan has extensive experience in using gamification for course design and welcomes questions as well.