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Community-Building Online Activities

Tue Aug 25, 2020 at 07:30 AM

Many of us look forward to the beginning of a fall semester--a return to one central location after a summer in places near and far. We might think we are used to this whole pandemic reality until we realize those first days of a new academic year will be online. 

Can we create that nervous but anticipatory moment of meeting our students for the first time, that first period of sensing how our experiences and personalities will mesh into a new community? Many are at a loss for how to do this online, maybe even resigned that the community may not be there in the same way. It may not be the same, but if we see how other online educators have been doing this work for years, we might just find more creative, developed first impressions of our students then we have ever experienced face-to-face.

This week’s teaching tip shares Community-Building Activities, creative contributions of Equity Unbound, an equity-focused, open, connected learning experience, co-facilitated by Catherine Cronin, Mia Zamora and Maha Bali, in partnership with OneHE.

Community Building Activities: 10 Ideas and Counting

Bali, Caines, and Zamora organize these nine activities, which are explained in brief videos by faculty with experience doing these activities, or actually modeling the activities if they are about introductions and ice-breakers. Each activity page includes simple descriptions, timing in the semester, step-by-step directions, and logistics. They have also included some framing directions to help get the most out of these activities such as safety considerations for online community building and video conferencing.

  • Annotate the Syllabus - This activity is an informal, low-stakes means for students to connect with one another through their discussion of an important text - the syllabus.
  • Asynchronous & Synchronous Introductions - This range of introductions provide ways for instructor and student to return to these brief portraits of class members. Specific ideas include ALTCV (alternative CV or resume), video/picture introductions, and collaborative introductions in synchronous sessions.
  • The Story of Your Name - Learners in small groups share what they know about what their names mean, why it was chosen, and anything else related to the story of their names. This activity includes faculty engaging in this activity
  • Surrealist Free Drawing Introductions - Creative take on doing intros that can help students to know one another and challenges perfection paralysis. Useful for building community online, recognizing different ways of knowing and creating, kicking off a creative project.
  • Spiral Journal - Promote focus and reflection while allowing individuals to compose responses thoughtfully and calmly in writing. This can help generate and gather large amounts of data quickly and can amplify or punctuate large group interactions.
  • Mad Tea - This impromptu network structure puts students into quickly changing breakout rooms to finish a sentence you provide them on slides, such as " Lately, my priority has been…" or "one superpower I have is…" or "a challenge I need help with is…"
  • While We Wait - When you have time between classes and can log on a few minutes early, this can help engage students who show up early, and encourage them to come on time for class, while helping create a sense of community in the way that people trickling into class early can do in an in-person class.
  • Third Places for Ongoing Community Building - Creating semi-formal, semi-synchronous spaces outside of formal class time for students to socialize with each other (and the teacher where possible) to address the socioemotional needs of students. These can be spaces like a Slack team, a WhatsApp group, or even a “cafe” space on your LMS discussion board (e.g. Moodle). 
  • Four Ideas for Checking In - Useful for synchronous sessions, these ideas provide ways to check how your students are feeling on the day. This is particularly important during a pandemic, but is a good way to start any class, in person or online, and can be as fast or as slow as you are comfortable. Simple approaches include text chat, video, annotation and word cloud.

Thanks to the creators at Equity Unbound for allowing reuse of this resource. They would like to hear how faculty are using and adapting these activities.

See more of our Teaching During COVID-19 Tips.

Save and adapt a Google Doc version of this teaching tip.

Edited by Christina Moore, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Photo by Robert Katzki on UnsplashOthers may share and adapt under Creative Commons License CC BY-NC.

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