Building and maintaining social connectedness in online courses can help build more positive instructor-student relationships (Woods & Ebersole, 2003). Encouraging student interactions can also help support their mental health and well-being, and help build relationships amongst students, consequently enhancing their overall learning experience.
Some of us may have wondered how online courses can allow for social interactions between learners and with the instructor. There are various ways instructors can support students to interact and stay connected in an online course. Here are some tips:
- Regularly check in on students: This can be with each student in a private message, with a group in a discussion forum or with the class as an exit exercise. You can ask questions like:
- How are you feeling?
- What do you need?
- Do you have any feedback for me on how the online course is going?
- Host a virtual chat session: Consider hosting a virtual chat session with your students. No curriculum, no instruction, no expectations. Just some time for everyone to connect & talk with each other. It is also great for fostering a sense of community in groups.
- Celebrate achievements: Highlight each milestone completed in the course and celebrate them. You can use visuals (e.g. images, emojis, gifs) to depict different types of milestones so students can recognize them. Also encourage students to like, mention or reward each other through the course.
- Set-up regular ice breakers: Consider adding regular ice-breaker activities in your online course. These can be as simple as light and fun topics or questions to be discussed by the class (or in groups) in a separate discussion forum/folder or via google docs. These are some great ways to encourage students to get to know each other and the instructor better and maintain interaction throughout the course.
- Encourage gratitude: Encourage students to be thankful to each other. In addition, thank students for their role in the course or for a specific thing they did. For instance, thank the students who made it easier for others to speak up, who made others curious to dig deeper or who helped foster critical thinking or discussions.
- Share a class calendar: Consider sharing a class calendar with your office hours clearly marked and ask students to book slots to connect with you. You can also encourage students to schedule slots to interact amongst themselves.
- Encourage peer mentors: Encourage students to act as peer mentors. They can participate in group work and can also support one another through peer learning activities.
You know what? Let us continue the social interaction discussion in the comment section. Kindly share a story or a moment in online learning when an activity, a kind word or thoughtful gesture made an impact to a student’s well-being and overall learning experience.
Woods, R., & Ebersole, S. (2003). Using non-subject-matter discussion boards to build connectedness in online learning. American Journal of Distance Education, 17(2), https://doi.org/10.1207/S15389286AJDE1702_3