Indoor UI classroom using COVID precautions like masks and social distancing

The connection students feel with each other and with their instructors is critical for student success. Making connections is more complex now that students are learning in virtual courses and modified classrooms.

A crucial first step is fostering a sense of community in your classroom from the beginning of the semester. Many instructors co-create community guidelines. (See an example.) These guidelines, informed by a syllabus inclusivity or diversity statement, should be treated as a living document and revisited and refined throughout the semester.

The following strategies can also help your students connect with each other and enhance their sense of belonging:

Help Students Learn Names and Get to Know Each Other

  • Intentionally using students’ names yourself will also help students learn each other’s names.
  • Students can see and connect with their classmates if you have enabled the People page on ICON.
  • It doesn’t have to be the beginning of the semester for you to help students get to know each other. You can ask students to do icebreakers when you start a new module or form new groups.
  • Suggestions for next semester:
    • Ask students to post a short profile and a picture to a discussion board.
    • Create base groups, small groups that regularly check in with each other for the entire semester.
    • During the first week of class, some instructors ask students to find one or two peers with whom they might study or share notes.

Plan Quick Learning Activities that Allow Students to Interact with Each Other During Class

  • Think-pair-share
  • Small group discussions. Consider assigning groups to avoid cliques or exclusion.
  • Simultaneous chat: Give students a prompt to respond to in chat but tell them not to post their responses until everyone is ready. This activity allows everyone to participate equally and find shared perspectives.

Foster Sustained Student-Student Interactions Through Collaborative Activities

  • When structured well, group work can positively impact student success.
    • In a short video, Alison Bianchi, associate professor of sociology and an expert on group processes, explains group roles and other strategies that support inclusive group work.
    • You can easily assign group roles randomly:
      • Wake up time (for example, the person who woke up first is the facilitator, etc.).
      • Alphabetical order (first or last name, hometown).
  • Some ideas for group work.
    • Jigsaw activity.
    • Group problem sets, quizzes, or reports.
    • Sharing work and peer review.
  • As we near the end of the semester, students will be focused on assessments. Help them connect by creating study groups.
  • Facilitate group work with technology tools.
    • Groups is a collaborative tool on ICON that provides space for groups of students to send messages, post discussions, and store and share files.
    • Pre-assigned breakout rooms in Zoom.

Create Spaces for Students to Connect and Communicate with Each Other

  • Create an ICON discussion board for students to share their work (for example, recorded presentations).
  • Create assignments that ask students to converse with each other about the readings using integrated tools, which includes the social annotation tool Perusall.

Connect Students to the Greater Campus Community

  • Share campus or student organization activities before or at the beginning of class.

To discuss these strategies and other teaching-related topics, please request a Center for Teaching consultation.