Building Community in Your Online Course

A community is a group of people who share a common purpose. In the context of an online course, a community includes not only students, but also the instructor(s) and, in many cases, experts from outside PSU. Establishing online community helps you and your students to:

  • Create meaningful learning experiences.
  • Answer larger questions beyond the scope of the class.
  • Increase student engagement and autonomy.
  • Have dialogues that support learning new skills and applying critical thinking.
  • Foster deeper learning connections.

To create and strengthen online community, build mechanisms into your course that encourage students to connect with you and each other. These can be technology features, collaborative teaching practices, or both.

Ideas for Building Online Community

Getting to Know Students

Understanding your students is crucial. An online course needs a meaningful place for students to share a bio and their interests in taking the class. Understanding their needs makes relevant and meaningful interaction easier.

Some ways you can get to know students:

Sharing Media

Encourage students to build their digital identity by sharing a piece of media — a photo, video, article, or sound clip. These PSU tools can help:

Seeking Help

Encourage students to develop a help-seeking strategy: Consider who your students go to for help and for answers to questions. As the instructor, you don’t have to be the only one. You could:

  • Invite a community expert to monitor a discussion forum for a week.
  • Have students help each other answer questions.

Supporting Choice

Allow for student choice in discussion forums or group work: Give students options in activities and/or assignments. Allow them to choose what’s most valuable and meaningful.

  • Each week, give students three topics to choose from — along with your guidelines and expectations for participation.

Setting Routine

The previous examples promote student autonomy and flexibility, key strategies in designing for adult learners — but routine is essential as well. For more engaging interactions and a feeling of inclusion, students need you to also supply:

  • Clear, simple, consistent expectations
  • Regular deadlines in a consistent, weekly format
  • Detailed instructions that outline involvement and collaboration