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Weekly Tip: Creating Community in the Online Learning Environment

Creating community in the online environment can be challenging.  Below we will discuss some easily implemented strategies to help your students connect, engage, and build community in your class.

While there are several suggestions listed below, remember, incorporating even one or two of these ideas will help foster community.  Building community with your students will give them a sense of belonging and thus build confidence to turn on their camera, ask a question, or contribute to class discussions. 

Getting to Know Your Students

  • Create a Getting to Know You Discussion Board
    • A discussion board can serve as a way for students to introduce themselves. Even if your class meets synchronously, a discussion board gives everyone equal opportunity to share with the class.  
    • In addition to basic introduction information, it can be helpful to include a prompt like What is one thing you would like our class to know about you? or : What about this course seems potentially exciting or challenging to you?
  • Create a Pre-Class Survey Using Blackboard, Qualtrics, or Google Forms
    • Using a pre-class survey can serve the dual purpose of providing you with useful information about your students and demonstrating to students that you care about them and their situation.
    • Survey questions could include topics like: technology they have available or are lacking, how they are feeling about the semester, or what they are hoping to learn in the course.
  • Lead a Norm Setting Activity
    • Establish the ground rules of interaction for the community (pdf). The composition of every class is different and it is important to create norms for each to operate under.  These norms can include rules for respectful discourse or how Zoom class session are conducted.  When students are involved in the norm setting process, they can feel more invested in the course. 

Keep Students Engaged and Participating

  • Encourage All Types of Feedback during Zoom Sessions
    • Some students are not comfortable turning on their camera or unmuting to ask a question. Try to offer other methods for feedback and class participation like chat, reactions, or polls offered in Zoom.  You could also create a Kahoot quiz as an information recall activity.
    • Encourage your class to help watch the Zoom chat and alert you if you miss a question or contribution. If you feel comfortable, you can also suggest that students help answer their classmates’ questions as well.
  • Build a Supportive Climate
    • Foster a growth mindset.
    • Institute regular check-ins to monitor how the class is feeling. If you do this as a poll, you can share the results anonymously to let them know they are not alone. 
    • Allow students an opportunity to see things from your perspective by allowing them to lead a discussion or present to the
  • Create a Class Playlist
    • At the beginning of the term, let students know you will be playing music as they arrive to the Zoom room. Use a shared document so students can add to the playlist and hear their song during the semester. 
  • Encourage Students to Use a Zoom Virtual Background and Explain its Significance
    • Choose a few days during the term where students will attend using a unique Zoom background. Ask if any students would like to explain the significance of their virtual background.  
  • Group Study Sessions
  • Authentic Connections
    • Throughout the semester, frame class content in a way that illustrates meaningful connections for students’ lives outside of the classroom. Create assignments and activities that are authentic to what they will experience in their future careers. 


This series of videos and teaching tips is presented by Academic Outreach and Innovation (AOI). We invite you to join the conversation. Share your tips and ask questions through this blog. If you would like these posts to be sent directly to your email each week, subscribe to the listserv by emailing

For more information or to schedule time with an instructional designer or emerging technologist, contact or request training on demand. You can also visit the Spark Faculty Innovation Studio in room 102 any time from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Thursday, during the academic year.