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Building Community

Building and Maintaining Community in Online Courses

During the first week of class, many of us lead introduction activities and icebreakers to get to know our students. One way to do similar introductions online is to have students create a video introducing themselves to the class. There are also a variety of icebreakers and community-building activities you can incorporate into synchronous online sessions. Beyond these activities, though, how else can you build and maintain community virtually? We asked SCU instructors with experience teaching online to share their insights on this topic.

Engage with Students in Discussions

“Making videos is definitely a good start. But if the efforts stop there, without consistent follow-up, an authentic community probably won't form. To help foster authentic interactions in the online format, I find that MY consistent participation in discussions and interactions with students is key. So, once I lay the groundwork for the discussions, I use them as a platform for ‘lecturing.’ I contribute the insights I would in class to the community, affirming student responses and gently nudging, or correcting, other students who need a little more guidance.”

     -Paul Schutz, Religious Studies

Facilitate Small-Group Interactions

“I have decided to put students in groups of 5 or less and ask them to work on a question each week. In this way, the students will only need to read at most 4 other responses, and they will be able to have a real conversation. I will also encourage the groups to ask public questions they are confused about and to take advantage of each other as study partners.”

     -Brian Buckley, Philosophy

Help Students to Connect

“In general, I get good feedback on the introduction post. Students are asked to reply to someone by greeting them or asking a question, then go back to see if they need to reply to that. I've added a new feature for Spring [2020] asking that the students use the intro to find a study partner if they don't already know someone in the class.”

     -Sheila Yuter, Public Health

If you’re interested in hearing about other strategies for cultivating community in your course, check out this video from the Association for College and University Educators (ACUE), “Welcoming Students to your Online Environment.” ACUE has also developed an Online Teaching Toolkit with additional resources.

Additional Resources

Harvard Graduate School of Education. (n.d.). Building community. Instructional Moves.

Sochacki, J. (March 23, 2020). A checklist for building community in the online classroom. Faculty Focus.

Wehler, M. (July 11, 2018). Five ways to build community in online classrooms. Faculty Focus.


Page author:
Dr. Rachel Stumpf, SCU Faculty Development Program Manager

Last updated:
August 3, 2020

Faculty Perspective

Building Community Online

"When we shifted to fully online for Spring 2020, I worried about how to create community in an entirely remote, online class. With that in mind, I decided to create small groups of four to six students who would be in Trust Pods/Groups. The groups reported to each other for their video discussion assignments, which entailed creating a video report on the reading, watching the videos of two to three other pod members, and replying to their videos. Some trust pods were fully asynchronous and others met with me synchronously once or twice a week in 30 minute discussion groups. Students began referring to each other in assignments, and some students told me they learned from their fellow students when listening to their videos.  Another student told me her trust pod exchanged phone numbers and would text about assignments and help each other."

-Sarita Tamayo-Moraga, SCU Religious Studies faculty