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Creating Community in Your Classroom 

Creating community in a remote course can help support student well-being and student learning in several ways. Research suggests that feelings of community have a powerful effect on students’ sense of belonging, satisfaction with their major, and retention rates (Booth et al., 2013; Micari & Pazos, 2016). Feelings of community also promote resiliency when confronting stressful or traumatic situations (Southwick et al., 2016). At the same time, students participating in remote instruction are more likely to experience isolation and alienation than they would in in-person classes (Rovai & Wighting, 2005). Below, we share some strategies for developing and sustaining community in your remote course.


Start Early

As the quarter gets going, it can be hard to start new policies. Because of this, try getting students used to interacting with each other online in low-stakes ways. If you want students to engage in asynchronous discussions, have them introduce themselves and comment on each other’s posts before your first meeting. This can be done through a discussion board on Canvas. View some sample discussion board posts for examples of how to get started (Google Doc)

Support Asynchronous Discussion

Rovai (2001) shows that incentivizing discussion through a platform like Canvas improves students’ sense of belonging. Consider creating a shared weekly discussion question for each section. Students can receive participation credit for engaging with other students’ posts. Ideally, these questions will be open-ended or challenging enough that the “right” answer is arguable or nuanced, allowing discussion to unfold. Instructional assistants (IAs) can moderate discussion boards to keep discussions going and step in as need arises. IAs may want to provide varying degrees of credit depending on the quality and number of their interactions with other students. (click to view an example discussion board rubric (Google Doc) and further suggestions for facilitating engaging discussion boards (PDF)).

Invite Students to Contribute to Course Content

If you are holding class or section through Zoom or another video conferencing program, you’ll soon find out that it can be even harder than usual to get students to volunteer a response! Because of this, it is helpful to know which students you can call on to volunteer a story or comment. To set your students up for success, have them do a pre-class reflection where they talk about a prior experience with a concept from that week. For example, you may be discussing phylogeny next week, so ask your students to come up with examples of species and a past interaction with one of them. Go through these responses beforehand and, in class, ask particular students to talk about their interactions with a species. Students often feel more connected to each other when they hear their peers tell stories about their lives (Curran, 1998).

Talk to Your Students About the Value of Community

Students respond well when the rationale behind an instructional strategy is communicated to them (Brown, 2001). They may not see how significant feelings of community are to their experience as learners. So, tell them why you want to build a community in your course – they may surprise you with how well they respond. Also, let them know what your expectations are for how they interact with each other throughout your course (click to view sample community expectations (Google Doc)). Setting expectations for engagement early in the course can help ensure that students are interacting with one another in productive and supportive ways.


Booth, K., Cooper, D., Karandjeff, K., Large, M., Pellegrin, N., Purnell, R., ... & Willett, T. (2013). Using Student Voices to Redefine Success: What Community College Students Say Institutions, Instructors and Others Can Do to Help Them Succeed. Research and Planning Group for California Community Colleges (RP Group).

d’Alessio, M. A., Schwartz, J. J., Pedone, V., Pavia, J., Fleck, J., & Lundquist, L. (2019). Geology Goes Hollywood: Building a community of inquiry in a fully online introductory geology lecture and laboratory. Journal of Geoscience Education, 67(3), 211-221.

Dolan, J., Kain, K., Reilly, J., & Bansal, G. (2017). How do you build community and foster engagement in online courses?. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2017(151), 45-60.

Micari, M., & Pazos, P. (2016). Fitting in and feeling good: the relationships among peer alignment, instructor connectedness, and self-efficacy in undergraduate satisfaction with engineering. European Journal of Engineering Education, 41(4), 380-392.


Rovai, A. P. (2000). Building and sustaining community in asynchronous learning networks. The Internet and higher education, 3(4), 285-297.

Rovai, A. P. (2001). Building classroom community at a distance: A case study. Educational technology research and development, 49(4), 33.

Rovai, A. P., & Wighting, M. J. (2005). Feelings of alienation and community among higher education students in a virtual classroom. The Internet and higher education, 8(2), 97-110.

Southwick, S. M., Sippel, L., Krystal, J., Charney, D., Mayes, L., & Pietrzak, R. (2016). Why are some individuals more resilient than others: the role of social support. World Psychiatry, 15(1), 77.

To read more ideas for creating community in remote instruction, read Engaged Teaching Hub’s full resource: 10 Tips for Creating Community through Remote Instruction.