Four Ways to Build Community in Your Online Classroom

By Ellie Walburg on September 5, 2018

When you're in grade school, you may have had class parties to celebrate birthdays, holidays and the start and end of the year. In high school, you passed your friends in the hallway and chatted with your classmates right up until the bell rang (and sometimes a little after).

Attending school involves incorporating a sense of community among your fellow peers and teachers. And that's as true as it is in college as it was in elementary, middle and high school.

When you pursue your education on campus, building that community can often feel easier. You meet in person once a week with the same cohort of people. You journey with this group of people through your entire program, keeping each other accountable in your face-to-face discussions.

But what about in an online classroom setting? While online learning brings about great opportunities to earn your degree on your time from wherever you are, the online classroom also has unique challenges. While you still travel through your program with the same group of people, many of whom may be in similar life situations as you, there's no set face-to-face time with your classmates.

Yet you don't have to sacrifice a strong community with your cohort and your instructor just from choosing to learn online. That community can be discovered in all kinds of ways.

Why is Community Important for Learning?

Adult sitting in a coffee shop and typing on a laptop computer

When it comes to effective classroom learning, a strong sense of community is more than just a nice thing to have. Community plays a large role in your success as a student.

For example, Dr. Lisa Cravens-Brown, as noted in an article by Jackie Wickham from Northwestern University, places a large emphasis on community in the classroom. In her presentation,"Creating Community in the Classroom," Dr. Cravens-Brown mentioned how having that feeling of belonging influences several areas in education such as motivation and success.

Think about it for yourself. Would you be more willing to contribute to a classroom discussion and raise your voice if you felt that you were appreciated and encouraged by the people around you?

Chances are, the more comfortable and affirmed you are by your peers, the more willing you are to speak up, ask questions and voice your opinion.

This success is outlined in a journal article from 2016 from the International Journal of Education and Social Science by Dedreiana Elliott, Marlen Gamino and J.Jacob Jenkins. The article states that college students who reported having "strong communal ties" were more likely to be successful in school. These students were more likely to contribute to a discussion in class and reduced classroom anxiety. Their research also notes how community strongly contributes to both student satisfaction and academic performance.

Creating a sense of belonging and developing classroom community improves the education experience and can help you thrive in your program. So how does that community happen?

Building Community Online

Male student using a laptop computer at a wooden table

Whether on campus or online, community is essential in thriving and persevering in a degree program. Here, we share four ways you can participate in that community through an online classroom setting.

1. Be All There in Class

In an online classroom, there's a limit to the ways you can connect with your classmates. Often, the easiest way to hear from your fellow cohort members is through discussion boards and posts. The questions and prompts your instructor throws out are intended to get you thinking about the topic at hand and provide a space to share your thoughts. Additionally, the videos your professor may share with you are there to foster that connection and get you thinking and growing in your knowledge, skills and abilities.

Now, it may be easier and faster to skim over those videos, jot down a few thoughts on a discussion post and comment a "good job" on a fellow classmate's post.

But to build a strong community in an online setting, it's best to be "all there" while you are in class. What does that mean? Actually watch the videos your instructor and fellow cohort members submit. Put thought into your discussion posts. Be willing to be vulnerable in sharing your opinions. Don't be afraid if you disagree with someone. Foster communication as a class.

2. Meet Up Outside of Class

Two adult males and one adult female having a discussion at a table in an office lobby

If you live near others in your cohort, meeting up outside of class is a great way to build relationships within your class. Schedule a time to go out for coffee or dinner. Discussing class is optional. Get to know each other beyond just those discussion posts and video introductions.

If you need help on an assignment and want feedback from your classmates, meet up to review your paper or project. Hear other's perspective in person and have great conversations.

3. Grow Your Online Community

Through an online learning management system, such as Moodle at PGS, you can interact with your fellow cohort members. But why not extend that online presence by creating a separate Facebook group page where you can share more fun things in life.

Connect with each other on your various social media platforms to get to know each other on a more personal level. Share a funny video to encourage your classmates through writing a paper. Post a meme of how you felt when you completed that assignment. Use additional online methods to connect with your classmates.

4. Don't Wait on Your Questions

If something is troubling you or if you have a question about something your instructor said or a comment from a classmate, don't wait to raise it. While it's more challenging to "raise your hand" to ask a question, as in an on-campus classroom, you still have equal opportunity to make your voice heard. Send your instructor an email or give them a call. They're there to serve you and equip you in your learning.

Foster Community—Even Online

Building community within an online classroom is absolutely possible. It may just take a little bit more intention on your part. But once you create and build those relationships within your cohort, you will be better equipped to thrive and achieve your goals. Discover our online programs and start building your community.

Categories: Academic Resources, Why College