The positive impact of a sense of belonging is well known and supported by decades of research. Findings from the most recent survey of students in the IU system are clear—feeling connected to faculty and peers is critical to academic performance and a general sense of well-being. While this is the case whether we teach on campus or online, it is increasingly relevant during periods of uncertainty, stress, and trauma in students' lives. We often do not realize the stressors that our students experience, so we should embrace a fundamental commitment to using strategies and tools to facilitate a sense of belonging.
There are many ways to show support for your students that aligns with your teaching identity and personality. If this is your first attempt to intentionally create and maintain community, start small. You will see that small, yet strategic changes produce a ripple effect that increases their impact:
- Ask students to post an introduction in the first week of class. It can be video, just audio, or text. In it, they should answer a question about the course—why they are taking it, what interests them about it, how they plan to succeed in it. Other students should ask a follow-up question of a subset of students.
- If you hold Zoom sessions, open the room early. This makes space for informal interactions like those that occur in classrooms before class begins.
- Change it up—use a variety of methods of maintaining contact with students in and out of the classroom. Consider announcements; short, informal weekly videos; audio feedback for assignments; email; contribute to discussion posts.
- Create purposeful discussion board assignments, with the intent to establish connections among students. For example, use open-ended questions that ask students to share something about themselves and/or the relevance of specific course content to their lives.
- Create smaller discussion groups within a larger class. You can do this synchronously online through breakout rooms in Zoom or asynchronously by forming discussion groups in Canvas.
- Establish regular, brief, one-on-one check-ins with students where you ask how they are doing and how you can help them succeed. Use their feedback to inform small changes you can make that would improve their experience of your course.