Overcoming Isolation: Building Community in Virtual Classrooms

Gone are the days when students had to commute to get to class or forgo higher education altogether. The option to take courses online has added the convenience of taking courses from wherever students may be at the present moment – whether it’s in the same city or across the country. In the case of asynchronous classes, students view their course lectures as recordings and can watch them whenever they can squeeze it in without having to work their schedule around a specific class time.

While online classes have opened doors by allowing many people to achieve their higher education dreams, one drawback that students often cite is the sense of isolation they feel. By taking classes online from their independent locations, there’s no common place like the physical classroom or the quad to meet up with fellow classmates, and there are few, if any, opportunities to have a face-to-face conference with professors. Overwhelmingly, there is a lack of sense of community in many online classrooms that, while it doesn’t keep students from enjoying the perks of taking online classes, leaves room for improvement in their overall experience.

So, how can educators overcome this feeling of isolation and put community back into virtual classrooms? Since students aren’t hearing from their virtual teachers in-person on a regular basis, having more frequent virtual contact, combined with occasional in-person meet-ups, can fill in the gaps.


Be in Their Inbox

A simple way to stay in touch with students is by having a consistent presence in their inbox. Sending e-mails regularly shows them that their teacher has them as a priority and cares about their success in the course. E-mails should always be related to the class, but can range from friendly reminders about assignments to links to interesting articles for further reading.


Utilize Social Media

Odd are, 99% of students have some form of social media account. All teachers should have social media accounts set up for professional use to communicate with students. How easy is it to send a 140-character “tweet” or Facebook post to students asking them if they have any questions about their upcoming paper? It’s a simple yet meaningful gesture that leads to more chances for interaction.


Hold Virtual Office Hours

Video conferencing software isn’t just for giving a lecture. It can also be used to meet with students outside of regular class time either one-on-one or as a group. Each week, keep set virtual office hours and send your students the link to attend so they can show up as they need to. Also make yourself available to meet virtually by appointment. You may be pleasantly surprised by the response you get!


Make On-Campus Appearances

If students are in a local cohort and they all live reasonably close to campus, instructors might consider having one or two days of face-to-face class or informal gathering each semester in a classroom on campus. This will give students the opportunity to meet their instructor, get feedback on assignments, and just mix and mingle in-person with the other students. It can serve as a much-needed breath of fresh air and confidence booster.


Encourage Students Meet-Ups

It’s not all up to the teacher: students can take initiative to meet in-person or virtually to work on assignments and projects together. However, they may need a little push to make it happen. In your discussion boards, e-mails, and social media, encourage students to interact with one another, like they’d be able to if they ran into each other at the dining hall. Building relationships with classmates is one of the things that make attending college most memorable. All they need to do is take the opportunity.

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