In the remote learning environment, social interaction can often be an exercise in frustration for both students and faculty. Asynchronous communication may not give the immediate feedback that is often needed for successful social interaction. Also, the inability to interact freely, such as before and after class, may exacerbate feelings of isolation and disconnection. Finding creative ways to create community online could help build those crucial relationships between faculty and students, encourage peer-to-peer interaction and increase a sense of belonging for underserved students.

Consider starting your course with a technology and access survey. Review this sample survey in Google Forms, and make a similar form for your own course. Then, work with your students to establish the rules of engagement and set expectations for your Zoom classes. Be aware that some students can’t show their video because they are sharing internet access in their home, or they may feel uncomfortable sharing their workspace at home. Be transparent about the reasoning behind your requests. You might also decide which other aspects of class culture are important to you — such as asking students to maintain eye contact, keep their audio muted until called upon, use a certain method to ask a question, or indicate in a particular way when they have to leave a session early. You can gather student input through ungraded surveys in Canvas or a shared Google doc. If your classroom norms are co-created, you will get student buy-in – both for the norms and for their relationships in the course.

Getting connected as a class through a "warm-up" period or "temperature check" provides an informal moment or two to presence themselves virtually. Consider having the students rename themselves with pronouns, a first name and a word/phrase that fits your prompt. Use a quick Zoom poll to gauge understanding of the content. If you can, stay after class and allow students to hang out and ask questions.

Synchronous communication is very appealing to students, given the instant feedback. Most of us feel more comfortable throwing a question in a chat window as compared to interrupting the conversation on Zoom. You could also open a live external window on Poll Everywhere or Mentimeter to get anonymous participation. For really quick questions — "Can you see my screen?" or "How are you feeling about the material so far?" — just ask everyone for a thumbs up or down via nonverbal feedback in Zoom. Some professors have established GroupMe threads or Slack channels to allow for less formal conversation, which can be managed by a TA or LA supporting your class. Encourage your students to communicate with you frequently in multiple formats, and you may be surprised that they are much more engaged than their silent black box on Zoom would indicate.

CTL Resources 

Building Student-Student Relationships – A CTL Guide (PDF) 

Sample Technology & Accessibility Student Survey (Google Form) 

 Prepare for Class via Zoom (CTL webpage)

 Engage Students & Gather Feedback (CTL webpage)

Further Reading & Resources:

Joanne M. McInnerney and Tim S. Roberts, Online Learning: Social Interaction and the Creation of a Sense of Community, Journal of Educational Technology & Society, Vol. 7, No. 3 (July 2004), pp. 73-81

Mary Raygoza, Raina León and Aaminah Norris. "Humanizing Online Teaching" (2020)

 8 Ways to Be More Inclusive in Your Zoom Teaching, from the Chronicle of Higher Education

 What You Need to Know About Pronouns, CU Boulder Human Resources guide