Virtual Mentor Tip: Building Community in Our Online Courses

WSU Virtual Mentor Stefanie Lehman

Having been an online student off and on for the last decade, I’ve experienced my fair share of unique classroom experiences. It seems each classroom has its own flavor, some more inviting and community oriented than others. Classrooms with high involvement and interesting conversation would inevitably draw me back in (even after reaching my response “quota”). Due to the relationships I built with classmates and the depth of our discussions, these courses were so enriching to be a part of, and they made my online college experience very gratifying. I wanted to share some ideas that we, as students, mentors, or instructors, can use to help build community in the classroom.

Remember that learning is a social process. We learn through dialogue, discussion, and interpersonal interaction. While we can learn individually, having access to a supportive community provides students with the opportunity and motivation to think critically about the lesson content and apply the material at hand.

Get real! Sharing your personality with students, through imparting past experiences or demonstrating emotion, shows others there is a human behind your keyboard. This is so important when building trust amongst classmates. A little humor can also go a long way in creating a warmer atmosphere.

Building relationships takes effort. Validating other’s opinions, especially in diverse classrooms, can go a long way. Hearing and respecting human stories of failure, success, and challenges can create a dynamic from which trust can be built.

Encouraging others to create content instead of regurgitating content. Asking critical thinking questions and going “outside the box” can help others to dig deeper into the topic at hand. It also makes for a more interesting learning environment. Creating a culture in which students and classmates can really interact with the material can help others to step out of their comfort zone and develop their learning strategies.

Find a buddy. With some of our classes topping out at 70-80 students, it can feel a bit like throwing a pebble in the ocean when reaching out to someone. Don’t be afraid to seek out a buddy— someone with whom you might have something in common with, who can support you on your journey, and whom you can support in theirs. We don’t have to be alone in this!

Thanks for taking the time to read along! I’m hoping these tips on community building can help our online classrooms and WSU thrive.

Stefanie Lehman

WSU Global Campus Virtual Mentor