C. As an instructor, how can you sustain this sense of class community throughout the semester?

Creating community in an online course environment is often one of the instructor’s priorities as the new semester begins. However, maintaining and continuing to build community in the class throughout the semester is equally important. Here are some helpful tips and techniques for maintaining the community among students in your online courses.

1. Establish a Chat Time.

In addition, or as a complement to, the “Class Lounge,” create some “office hours” when students can drop in or invite students to contact you for one-to-one appointments.

2. Be available and accessible.

In all communications, particularly early on when you are establishing “first impressions,” to the extent possible, let students know that you are available, approachable, supportive, and actively interested in mentoring them. While this may involve some effort on your part, the payoffs for both instructor and students are well worth it.

3. Psychic Massage and Positive Strokes.

At the end of the semester or unit, have students nominate a student for whom they must all compliment for his or her contributions to the online class (“the best thing I like about {name} is”).

4. Give timely feedback.

Respond to your students regularly with timely feedback to their assignments.

5. Ask for their feedback.

Ask students for their feedback on what worked and didn’t work halfway through the term, and make changes where you can.

6. Create reflective discussion boards.

Ask students to contribute to discussion boards during or immediately after a unit or assignment to discuss what they learned, what was easy/difficult and why, how they might have done things differently. A semester’s reflection is also worthwhile.

7. Consider how students establish and maintain community.

In one study (Lapadat 2007), communications in an online graduate course were examined to identify what types of discourse was used by students to establish community. These included:

a. use of greetings to address class or a particular student

b. reference to or invitation to social situation outside course

c. use of colloquialisms, instructor’s jargon, and echoing terms coined by other students

d. self-disclosure

e. anecdotal asides

f. requests for or offers of help

g. supportive or encouraging remarks

h. use of humor

i. invitation to others to comment

j. use of inclusive language such as “we” or “us”

8. Create Working Groups.

Probably the most common technique of sustaining community in an online class is to create small groups of students (5-10) and establish group discussion boards to discuss course readings, work together on group assignments, peer-review each other’s drafts, and otherwise collaborate as a subset of the class.

Note: Most of these activities have been copied, adapted and /or revised from sources referenced below.


1. eCollege.com.

2. Manning, Michelle. “Building Presence and Community in the Online Class.”

3. Tips and Tricks for Teaching Online.


4. “Using Online Icebreakers to Promote Student/Teacher Interaction.”

5. Warnock, Scott. “Chapter One, Getting Started: Developing Your Online Personality.” Teaching Writing Online: How and Why. Urbana: NCTE, 2009. 1-10.

6. Lapadat, Judith C. 2007. “Discourse Devices used to Establish Community, Increase Coherence, and Negotiate Agreement in an Online University Course.” http://www.jofde.ca/index.php/jde/article/view/32/29

7. Working with Small Groups in an Online Classroom http://www.onlinelearning.net/InstructorCommunity/workingwithgroups.html

Prepared by the former CUNY Online BA Writing Fellows, Jillian De Gezelle and Dwandwan Ou-Yang, with help from Peter Miller, the Online BA WAC Coordinator.

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