Creating Community

As you welcome students during the fall 2021 semester, acknowledge that the world continues to face a multitude of problems, including the pandemic, the fight for a more just society, and the struggle to manage the climate crisis. Acknowledge that you are in it together and that the transition to in-person teaching will take some adjustment. Working intentionally to create community is important in itself, as we create a human space in our classrooms, but it also has long-term effects on student learning. Students who feel a sense of belonging feel motivated to keep learning, despite challenges. Strategies for creating community include:

Engaging Students

Engage students as people in your class, allowing time for them to share what is happening to them outside of class, if they wish. Make yourself available for offline questions and concerns, as well.

Use an icebreaker or warmup to get everyone talking at the beginning of the term

Make student engagement a primary goal of section: Keep lecture recap to a minimum in order to  to leave time for students to engage with and truly understand the material. If you do need to deliver some content through lecturing, try to keep information divided into shorter (6-8 minutes) units and alternate with activities that ask students to apply what they are learning. These activities may include:

  • Full-group discussion
  • Opportunities for students to learn from each other
  • Opportunities for students to learn in small groups
  • Opportunities for students to give you feedback about what they are learning.

Active Learning

Apart from brief lectures to introduce new material or reinforce prior learning, rely on active learning in small groups to help students understand the material while strengthening their bonds with each other. In small groups, ask students to:

  • Apply a concept to a set of data or a text
  • Work on a problem or case study together
  • Offer a competing interpretation of a text or idea
  • Answer poll questions
  • Ask each other questions about the material.

Active learning may take many forms:

  • Use the whiteboard as a collaboration tool with the full group
  • Use small groups to allow students to raise questions, apply concepts, and notice gaps in their learning that they fill through contact with you and their peers
  • Consider activities that rely on technology, such as group notetaking on a shared document, group annotations using Canvas tools, or polling to make the shared learning experience more visible to everyone.