Some of you, no doubt, have already taught online classes for a while, as hybrids or in a totally asynchronous format. For others of you, this may be the first time you are teaching a totally asynchronous class in the Online BA program. We would like, first, to address the central question that always seems to emerge at the beginning of an online course: As the instructor, how does one create a sense of community online?
To start, consider how this communal sense is often built in a face-to-face class. On the first day, the instructor may introduce herself or himself, may say something personal, may talk about the goals of the course, the course requirements and texts, and perhaps hand out the syllabus for the course. The teacher may also have students say their first names, perhaps interview each other, meet and talk to each other in small groups and return as a class to hear from each group. The teacher may also ask students to fill out a questionnaire and produce a brief writing sample.
The mere presence of each student, along with the interactions between students and those of the instructor with the students on the first day often sets the tone of the class for the entire semester. For the teacher, it may answer some questions, such as, “What are my students like?” “What are their names?” “What is their prior college experience?” “How can they write?” for the students, the first class may answer questions, like, “What is the teacher like?” “How easy of difficult will the course be?” “Will I enjoy this course and learn a lot or not?”
Creating a sense of community in an online environment is one of the instructor’s imperatives as a new semester begins. However, maintaining and continuing to build community in the class throughout the semester is equally important. Research has shown that students who feel connected to other students and the class community place a high priority on the class, are highly motivated, and participate frequently in the course.
While you and the students do not have the luxury of being physically present, there is still much you and they can do to begin to create a sense of online community. What follows are some suggestions, based on experience and Internet research, built around three questions: