Online community is an important part of an effective online classroom, but it can often be difficult to establish. This is true regardless of the modality. One of the most commonly used frameworks for building an effective online community is the Community of Inquiry framework (Fiock, 2020; Garrison et al., 1999). The community of inquiry framework highlights three main areas: teaching presence (related to facilitating learning), cognitive presence (related to making meaning of content), and social presence (related to expressing oneself in the online environment). Social presence is associated with course satisfaction as well as the perceived learning (Richardson & Swan, 2003). As such, social presence is the glue that holds the framework together and is enhanced by the development of a sense of community in the online classroom.
With the recent move of many college courses to the online environment, there is a need for the development of engaging and innovative ways to build a sense of community in online classes. With this in mind, I began thinking of ways to increase the sense of community in my own asynchronous online classes. I believe it is important to begin to build this culture from the first day of classes, so I typically begin the semester with a VoiceThread introduction activity that asks students to upload a profile picture of themselves before introducing themselves. VoiceThread is an online tool that allows students to communicate with each other through text, audio, or video-recorded comments. When students add a profile picture to their VoiceThread account, it allows teachers to put a face to a name, which also helps us feel a deeper sense of connection to each other. I also lead by example and add my own profile picture and provide instructions using the video comment option.
After adding a profile picture, students move on to adding an introduction comment. The student introductions are structured to help students learn more about each other as well as identify their similarities and differences. Introductions consist of an audio or video comment in which students share the following:
This activity yields a lot of interesting responses and great connections. I typically require students to respond to at least one or two students’ posts; however, most students don’t go beyond this, which exposes them to a minimal number of their colleagues. I thought I might be able to take it one step further with an engaging and fun activity. The Getting to Know You Bingo game is an activity students would complete the week after finishing the VoiceThread introduction. I would listen to all the introductions and select certain posts that include interesting facts and descriptions. I would then add these descriptions to the bingo cards and ask students to fill in each square with the name of the classmate who meets that description. Students can choose to fill in the blank spaces in the boxes of any single horizontal, vertical, or diagonal line (as in the traditional bingo game), or they can take it even further and fill in the entire bingo card. For this activity, I would create an assignment within the learning management system and include a link to the bingo card that would provide each student with a copy of the card. Students would then type their answers directly onto the card and submit their completed bingo card individually.
This activity ensures that students get to know each other in a more effective and fun way. It enhances the sense of community because students have learned new and interesting things about each other that they are unlikely to forget. This activity also lays the groundwork for students to form deeper relationships based on similar interests and experiences and extends the activity of getting to know each other beyond the first day of class. You can adapt this activity for synchronous online classes, where you can group students into breakout rooms where they complete a more generic bingo card made up of instructor-developed items.
If you’re interested in trying this out for yourself, feel free to make a copy of Getting to Know You Bingo at this link.
Fiock, H. (2020). Designing a community of inquiry in online courses. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 21(1), 135–153. https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v20i5.3985
Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (1999). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2–3), 87–105. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1096-7516(00)00016-6
Richardson, J. C., & Swan, K. (2003). Examining social presence in online courses in relation to students’ perceived learning and satisfaction. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 7(1), 68–88. https://doi.org/10.24059/olj.v7i1.1864
Natasha Nurse-Clarke, RN, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Nursing at Lehman College, City University of New York, and is the founder of The Online Educator, a blog and community focused on providing education and resources to online faculty.