Host an online o-week - Familiarise students with their learning environments before a course begins; include activities that get learners to communicate with each other. These less-formal introductory sessions allow learners to establish relationships, whilst also giving learners confidence to use the platforms.
Use breakout rooms to create space for connecting - Allocate time for learners to connect with one another without feeling supervised; do this by providing learners with conversation prompts and then send them into breakout rooms.
Run opening and closing activities - At the beginning of class ask a question that links the lesson topic to learners’ prior experience, knowledge, or skills to get them sharing ideas with each other. Close by asking learners to reflect on the lesson and share any appreciations. Ask them questions such as, “what did you learn today? And who from?” This allows students to build rapport with each other.
Create team activities - Use breakout rooms for in-class team activities. The class can then come together to share results. This allows learners to collaborate with each other from a distance.
Provide online forums - An Internet forum, or message board, is an online discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages. If your organisation uses a platform that supports forums, prepopulate forums with discussion prompts, and have different threads for learners to discuss different subjects. One thread could be for course-related questions that other learners could answer (and you monitor to correct any misinformation), while another may be activity-based (e.g., weekly reflections, discussion questions related to your course), another could be fun topics that let them get to know each other. Checkout this guide on how to set up a community focused, student-led café forum.
Try Together mode - If Teams is your online learning platform, try Together mode to create the illusion that you and your learners are in the same room. Together mode puts everyone’s faces on bodies in a digital classroom so everyone can be seen at the same time. Though it may seem gimmicky, many have found that it is an effective tool for increasing social connections and engagement. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to enable Together mode.
Use social media - Encourage students to create groups or group chats on social media platforms so they can easily connect outside of class. This can be a space for them to ask each other questions, raise any concerns, organising group study sessions etc. Often, tutors aren’t a part of these groups, to allow students to feel more comfortable to voice their opinions and form bonds with each other. Make sure you have a responsible class representative whose job it is to relay any of the class’s worries back to you.