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Engage & Build Community with Students

Establishing community in online and hybrid classrooms is essential to the success of a positive learning environment in which students are able to fully engage with each other, the instructor, and the course content. As we navigate the extenuating circumstances and challenges brought forth by the COVID-19 pandemic, please consider the following tips and suggestions for building community and fostering relationships in your online and hybrid courses. If you have questions, please reach out to citl@wku.edu and we would be happy to help.


Cultivate Immediacy

One of the most important pieces of any classroom community is the relationship between students and instructor and a significant component of that relationship is built on student-teacher immediacy or the perceived closeness between the teacher and students. Immediacy is built verbally and nonverbally through behaviors such as:

  • smiling,
  • maintaining eye contact,
  • use of names,
  • use of humor,
  • and involvement of students in conversation and discussion.

Research indicates that high levels of immediacy result in increased student motivation, engagement and persistence. Many of these behaviors may seem natural to you in a face-to-face environment, but might seem more difficult online. To cultivate immediacy online, think about the tone you are conveying in your audio or video recordings. Try to incorporate personal anecdotes or information about yourself to help personalize content and consider using humor where appropriate – let your personality come through in your recordings. In your communication with students, use inclusive pronouns and refer to students by their first names. Also, as written communication may be your primary mode of communication, consider the tone of your message and, as Ollie Dreon details in The 8 Blog, “Lead with empathy.”

Integrate Video

In addition to content specific (lecture) videos, including video of yourself is a great way for students to humanize faculty in an online setting, especially in an asynchronous design. If students never see you or hear your voice outside of lecture, it is difficult for them to connect to you and the course, which can lead to a decrease in motivation. Simple things like creating a short welcome video to introduce students to you and the course and including a brief weekly/topic/unit video outlining learning objectives and explaining what they’ll be doing in the coming days are great ways to increase immediacy and help students form a relationship with you. Through programs like Flipgrid, you can also have students post video introductions, reflections, presentations, etc. to a “grid” where students can interact with you and each other.

Instructor Presence

Be sure that you are participating in any discussions happening online. While it is very important that you are not dominating the conversation, it is also helpful for students to know that you are there and following along. This is a great opportunity for you to provide feedback, give praise and help correct if someone has gone off track. It is also a good way for you to model the way you would like for students to communicate online.

Try to replicate the informal experience you would have face-to-face before and after class where so much interaction occurs. For instance, if you’re meeting synchronously with your students, show up to your Zoom class early and/or hang around after the lecture/discussion is over to. Keep in mind that these sessions will be public – you cannot have private conversations with students in the zoom class meetings. If you need to have a private conversation, schedule a separate time with that student.

Be Intentional 

Engaging with students in an online/hybrid course is just as important as it is in a face-to-face course, it just looks different and it must be intentional. It does not “just happen” as it can in a classroom. 


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Tip 1

Download and print the Building Community & Fostering Engagement in an Online Classroom quick guide.

Tip 2

Start with a welcoming and inviting tone. Create a welcome video and invite/require students to create their own introductory video or introduce themselves through a discussion activity.

Tip 3

Maintain frequent communication with students. Weekly emails or videos to introduce and preview or wrap-up the week are a great way to check-in and touch base with students. Also, be present in online discussions and reach out individually to students to offer praise on outstanding work, encouragement and support if something is missing, feedback on an assignment, etc.

Tip 4

Host virtual office hours or other informal opportunities for students to “drop in” and talk.

Tip 5

Use group work. It may look different, but there are tools and technologies available (Zoom, Google Docs, Blackboard Collaborate, etc.) that will help you make socially distant and/or online group work a success.



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 Last Modified 8/3/20