Establishing Community and Trust

Learning doesn’t need to occur in a bubble.  It’s incredibly important to allow students to get to know their instructor, and for the instructor to get to know their students.  Online learning, in particular, removes the ability for students to get to know their instructor directly in a face-to-face manner or discussion.

A group of people, representing a communityHumanize Your Course

Help your students get to know you by humanizing your course.

Humanizing a course involves showing the personality of the instructor within the course.  This can often be accomplished by providing students with information about you, creating videos with your voice (and preferably a visual of you), and giving students a sense of who you are.  Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, make a goofy video, or tell a few bad jokes.

A great resource about humanizing an online course is through the work of Michelle Pacansky-Brock, Ed.D., as found through Dr. Pacansky-Brock’s website, or through Dr. Pacansky-Brock’s free course, Humanizing Online Learning.

Create Helpful and Alternative Discussions

One of the simplest ways to help create community in a course is through Canvas by creating two discussion boards. The first, an “Ask a question” discussion, is intended to provide students a space to ask questions in a space where anyone, student or instructor, can provide assistance.

The second, “Off-topic discussion”, is intended for everyone to discuss items not related to the course.  This typically can be used as a place for discussions of movies, music, news, and other topics.  As the instructor, it’s ok to set some guidelines to ensure civility, but this type of discussion should not focus on course content.

A great resource on using Canvas to create community in a face-to-face or online course is the Creating a Sense of Community with Canvas self-enroll site.

Give Students a Chance to Share Their Knowledge

One of the best ways to build community and trust is to allow students to share their own knowledge and experiences.  Much like how a student needs to know their instructor is involved with a course, they also need to feel as though they can contribute.  Often times this can occur in well-structured discussion questions, where students are encouraged to relate content to real-world experiences, share stories, and contribute impactful items, among others.

Ideas & Technology to Help

Here’s a few ideas, including technology-related ideas, to help facilitate building community and trust with students:

Icebreakers – Face-to-Face and Online Classes

Icebreakers are one of the fastest and easiest ways to get to know students and build trust – and they don’t have to only happen at the very first class.

In a face-to-face classroom, consider tossing around a beach ball where each student has to share a fun fact, or even the kindest thing ever said to them by a teacher.

In an online course, a Canvas discussion can offer a similar opportunity by asking students fun questions and facts.  In both cases, later icebreakers can be used to integrate course knowledge with community building.

A great resource for more icebreakers is the Cult of Pedagogy’s Icebreakers that Rock.  While most are framed for face-to-face instruction, many of the ideas can be re-framed for online.

Groups & Group Tasks – Face-to-Face and Online Classes

Group tasks can generate their own form of community and trust among students.

  • Think/pair/share (face-to-face) asks students to individually first think about a topic and generate their own responses. Individual students are then paired with another student to discuss their responses and potentially discuss a related topic. Pairs are then asked to share out to the group.
  • Jigsaw (face-to-face), a variation of think/pair/share, can also help generate community. A series of questions are generated and broken up among individual students in equal numbers.  Individual students first think about their designated question then group with others that have the same designated question to discuss their thoughts.  Same-question groups are then broken down, with students assembling into new groups where each individual member comes from a different question group.  Students then share responses with one another and discuss.
  • Canvas Groups (online) allow for placing students into group situations despite being at a distance from one another. Canvas Groups allow for students to work on projects, discussions, and tasks together.  Groups also tie into the Collaborations tool, allowing students to work together on a mutual document.  Tasks can be given to different groups which can then be allowed to work through them in a mutually-agreeable way.  More information: Canvas Groups and Canvas Collaborations – via the Canvas Community.

Video – Online Classes

Video is a great way of generating community and trust in an online class.  Video also has the benefit of adding a human element into a class.

  • Instructor-created video allows for showing students the involvement of the instructor in a class.  Instructor video can introduce content, discuss course topics, explain concepts, pass along information about campus events, and more.  It’s also ok for an instructor to have typical “umms” and similar verbal items in their videos as it helps show that the instructor is not always perfect and human, just like their students.  As an instructor, it is also important to make sure instructor-created video is closed-captioned. For creating video, hosting video, and captioning video, consider the college’s video management system Panopto.  More information: Using Panopto – Important First Steps; Simple Editing of Closed Captions in Panopto
  • Student-created video allows students to express themselves in a manner other than text.  Student video can be created directly through Canvas, or instructors can enable Panopto to accept video assignments.  Student video can also be created within discussion boards and assignments.  It is also worthwhile to consider a tool like Flipgrid, which facilitates completely video-based discussions in an easy-to-use interface.  More information:  How do I record a video using the Rich Content Editor as a student?; Flipgrid

Questions?  We can help!

Have questions about instruction, course design, teaching methods, technology to help, or more?  Please contact the Center for Teaching & Learning through our contact form or by phone at (708) 974-5347.

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