Best practices for online teaching tell us that building community and creating a personal connection with our students has a positive impact on student motivation, engagement, and retention (Kwinn, 2018). Having social presence and a sense of belonging increases persistence and diminishes feelings of isolation (Nilson & Goodson, 2021). Evidence-based standards like Quality Matters, underscore the importance of community and providing well-designed interactions to create active and positive learning experiences.
If there was ever a time for creating social presence, it might be after a global pandemic and months of isolation! Furthermore, the strategies for creating social presence and a sense of community in online courses are also effective for creating a sense of community and belonging in face-to-face classes.
Strategies for creating social presence
Help students to get to know you and other students in the class. Learning students’ preferred names is one of the most effective ways to establish connection (Glenz, 2014). Provide activities where students can learn names and something about others in the class.
Ask discussion questions that require students to apply critical thinking rather than paraphrase content. Brookfield (2012) recommends critical reflection to help students probe and think deeper about an idea, concept, or problem. Open-ended questions and questions that explore the assumptions of others are a good way to encourage students to reflect critically. “What cause and effect relationships do you see?”; “Whose perspective is missing and what would this look like if it was included?”; “When I’ve faced similar problems, I’ve sometimes assumed that…”.
Provide positive and meaningful feedback. Use the student’s name when reinforcing a good discussion contribution. For other assignments, consider using exam wrappers or other short activities to provide meaningful feedback, encourage student reflection, and to help them to think about what they are learning (Lovett, 2013),
Make it social through collaborative work. Design group work that requires a variety of skills or interests so students must rely on one another to complete the task. Lang (2016) suggests that when given the opportunity to learn together, to learn with you and from each other, that discussion and student engagement will be a more valuable component of the learning community. In his book, Small Teaching, he also writes about the importance of showing enthusiasm and facilitating a collaborative behavior to model the skills you are teaching.
Contact the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning for more information on any of these strategies or other strategies for reconnecting with students online and in the classroom.
References and Additional Reading
Brookfield, S. D. (2012). Teaching for critical thinking. Jossey-Bass.
Glenz, T. (2014). The importance of learning students’ names. Journal on Best Teaching Practices. [Retrieved from http://teachingonpurpose.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Glenz-T.-2014.-The-importance-of-learning-students-names.pdf]
Kwinn, A. (March 2018). Building relationships with online students. Noba Blog post. [Retrieved from https://nobaproject.com/blog/2018-03-26-building-relationships-with-online-students]
Lang, J. (2016). Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning. Jossey-Bass.
Lovett, M. C. (2013). Make exams worth more than the grade. In Using reflection and metacognition to improve student learning, Eds. Kaplan, M., Silver, N., LaVaque-Manty, D., & Meizlish, D. Stylus Publishing. [Retrieved from https://tomprof.stanford.edu/posting/1260]
Nilson, L. B. and Goodson, L. A. (2021). Online teaching at its best: Merging instructional design with teaching and learning research. Jossey-Bass.