Creating a Community in your Class

Rationale for Creating Community. Brain research demonstrates that superior learning takes place when classroom experiences are motivating and engaging. Positive motivation impacts brain metabolism, conduction of nerve impulses through memory areas, and the release of neurotransmitters that increase function and attention. Engaged students feel that they are partners in their education.

Before the Class Begins. Make your Blackboard site interesting with photos and graphics. Make it clear and user friendly. Customize any profiles that the students will encounter. Every time students log into your class, you want them to see your picture. It’s an easy way to interact with them and encourage them to see you in the way that you want to be seen as the model citizen of your community. Encourage students to also customize their profiles.
Construct a Welcome Email. Introduce yourself. Mention the required materials, especially if students have to purchase something, you want to give them a heads up. Reinforce your contact information and let them know it is OK to reach out to you. Let them know that you are excited about what you are teaching, and excited to welcome them into a learning community.
Your Email Signature. When you are building a community online, it’s the little things that count for students. One of the first things they should receive from you is an email. The email should communicate to the student who you are and information about the courseInclude information about your virtual office hours and a link to your office. Use your pronouns. Communicate that your classroom is a safe space.  

Communication plans. Make your communication plans clear and consistent. This plan is a way for you to make sure that you are reaching out to students during critical points in the semester.  

An Introduction VideoProvide an introduction video for the course. The video doesn’t have to be fancy- students are always making videos so it is an easy way to connect. You can use your phone or webcam to record a message, or you can use Adobe Spark to incorporate photos, music, and text.
Student Introductions. Have students introduce themselves. They can record videos and post them in Blackboard or on Flipgrid. Students can create a collage, or they can write a one-page description.
During Class. Do some “Get to Know You” Activities. Post a photo of your favorite hangout space. Post a photo of a destination you want to visit and why. Take a poll of favorite deserts. Dream car. Celeb crush. Hobbies. Which animal they would beTake a learning style quiz. Best place to celebrate. Comfort food. One thing you’ve read (article, story, book), one thing you’ve seen (art, movie, live experience), and one thing you’ve heard (speech, music) that has had a strong influence on your life. Have a current event reactions discussion thread or blog.
Have a little fun! Use an icon or avatar to mark significant announcements or important points throughout the semester. Any time you can add visuals to your online space it will improve student engagement. 
Create a routine and be consistent. For example: assignments always due on Sunday by midnight, and Monday a new module overview video will be posted.  

Do something unexpectedPlan something fun, or let the students do the planning. Give them ownership and control whenever it is appropriate; they are responsible members of this community. 

Create short video overviews or infographics of each new module. Share your enthusiasm, explain why this topic is important or relevant, and tell students what to expect in terms of assignments.  

Study groups. Let students choose their own communication platform. Create a group name or icon and meet at times that are convenient for them. Ask for periodic reports of their study experience, and pop in to visit each group one time. Give credit for participation. 

Have a watch party for an assigned film or Tedtalk. Students can post photos of an in-person party or use a tool like The party with the best snacks gets an extra point.