10+ Resources for Faculty Building Community in Online Learning Spaces

Written by: Christie Forgette

Students who share common learning goals and feel connected with each other and their instructor are operating as a community. Building community is particularly important in remote or digital learning contexts, including when faculty and instructional designers depend heavily on courseware.

One common framework for building community in the classroom is the Community of Inquiry (COI) Model. This framework emphasizes the intersection of teaching presence, cognitive presence, and social presence and encourages instructors to address each domain when planning a course.

Another helpful framework is outlined in an online professional development course Fit for Online Learning, from the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. The module on community building in online courses emphasizes belonging and connectedness. It notes, though, that classroom spaces often lack a sense of inclusion and relationship. This lack of belonging may diminish motivation and lead to student disengagement.  

Those are two comprehensive resources for faculty working to create community in their classrooms. Those and the resources listed below address a range of online learning contexts, from face-to-face classes that use courseware to fully remote and asynchronous courses.

Resources from University Teaching and Learning Offices

Columbia University Center for Teaching and Learning

This resource page outlines research on community building and provides practical strategies for the classroom. It organizes the strategies into three broad categories: social icebreakers, metacognitive activities, and content-based activities. While focusing on synchronous online courses, the resource also provides adaptations for different contexts, including asynchronous modalities and large courses.

Baylor University Academy for Teaching and Learning

A conceptual framework called the “community of truth” as a vehicle for thinking about community in the classroom centers the student as “subject” for dialogue and learning instead of the professor. It encourages collaborative dialogue between students and teacher. The resource describes several interactive learning methods, such as bonding and bridging games, collective narrative practice, and effective group work. Also, this resource considers how to implement community building in digital spaces.

Cornell University Center for Teaching Innovation

The framework outlined on this resource page — the Community Canvas Framework — has three components for operating a community of learning: identity, experience, and structure. It includes several tips for implementing a sense of community, such as building community agreements, developing communication plans, and using storytelling to connect. It also provides a list of digital tools or applications needed for each tip.

Indiana University Bloomington Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning 

This resource uses guided questions to prompt instructors to reflect on how their course design can build a sense of belonging among students. The questions cover topics such as conveying a growth mindset, using equitable grading practices, and communicating with care and flexibility.

Carnegie Mellon University Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation

This Eberly Center resource outlines several concrete, practical techniques that can be used in hybrid and remote teaching to promote a sense of community in different course formats (e.g., seminars, lectures, project based) It also takes into account different academic disciplines. Along with describing the individual technique, the resource lists the advantages, implementation considerations, and tools needed to effectively use each technique in the classroom.

Stanford University Graduate School of Education

Making up part one of a three-part collection on building community in a remote course, this resource is organized by techniques for creating a sense of community before the first day of class, on the first day of class, and throughout the term.

Colorado State University Institute for Learning and Teaching 

A succinct resource focusing on building an inclusive classroom climate, this page lists several suggestions for creating a welcoming environment and includes external links to other resources that provide more detail on some of the ideas in the suggestions. It also notes key considerations for creating an inclusive community in online learning environments.

Archived Video Presentations

2022 APLU Inclusive Summit: Emphasizing Care, Culture, and Community in the Classroom 

This forum, part of an Association of Public Land-grant Universities online conference, features faculty members sharing their experiences and advice for community building in college courses. Some of the practices discussed include ways for instructors to learn more about their students and how to use that information to inform their teaching. 

Building Community in the Classroom Whatever Your Teaching Modality

A brief video from Nancy Gleason, Director of the Hilary Ballon Center for Teaching and Learning at NYU Abu Dhabi, who offers three tips for building community in any class. Gleason’s three key points include structuring student interactions, staying present as an instructor, and designing a course for inclusive teaching. 

Building an Inclusive Community in the Classroom

Presented by the education technology vendor Cerego, this webinar takes a comprehensive look at building an inclusive environment. Patti Valella, life science professor at Long Beach City College, leads the discussion and overviews several topics for building community, including creating an inclusive syllabus, implementing strategies to help students feel represented, and using breakout rooms effectively. 


What’s Working (Part 3): Building Community in Any Classroom 

In this episode of Write Answers from the Ohio Writing Project at Miami University, educator Lindsay Bruggeman shares her community-building philosophy. She covers practical strategies for increasing community and connectivity for her students, especially during a time with increased distance learning. 

Community Building in the Classroom 

This podcast episode from the University of Illinois Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning features an interview with Sarah Rose Cavanagh, a psychology professor at Simmons University. She discusses the importance of creating shared goals among students and teachers in the classroom, the obstacles instructors may face in the process of building a community of learning, and the value and limitations of flexibility in a course.  

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