5 ways to create a community while students are studying remotely

With millions of students across the world forced to stay at home due to the pandemic and shutdowns in many areas likely to continue throughout the winter, we take a look at how you might use technology to keep students engaged and still give them a sense of connectedness during these strange times.

These students are adapting now to a new way of receiving education, and they will be your future student ambassadors. As many universities have already implemented new digital marketing ad web strategies to enable an efficient method of online learning, it is important to remember other aspects of student life. Connection and the student community is a major part of why a student picks where they would like to study, and with the use of technology, it has become easier to provide this part of student life online.

In this five minute read, we've got five quick ways you can help students to connect with each other, successfully forge ahead with their studies and feel like they're part of the university community.

#1 Embrace emerging platforms to enhance the online learning experience for students

Although many courses are moving to hybrid teaching models or entirely online, some universities are still mainly using online teaching platforms to share resources and to deliver lectures and are in danger of creating bland and solitary learning experiences.

Humanizing the teaching experience online is going to become a key differentiator, and emerging platforms are going to enable this even more. We reported last week how Zoom intends to launch a virtual classroom, Class for Zoom, which will help those involved in teaching to link to syllabus materials, track attendance, hand out assignments, give students quizzes and quick tests, and grade work. It also includes tools so they can talk one-to-one with students, provide resources, website links, and videos, link to materials on Blackboard and Moodle, and access an online whiteboard.

We anticipate that Microsoft, Google, and others might follow suit and increase the toolsets available for energizing online teaching and learning with greater collaboration options for students.

Is Zoom Classrooms a virtual education game-changer?

#2 Bake informal networking into the student experience

During this time when meeting on campus is restricted, or prohibited, forming connections with fellow students can be harder, particularly for those just entering university. Mapping out the available opportunities for students to connect could be really beneficial for students.

Some institutions, like California State University at Fullerton, are also providing smaller group settings and upping the number of collaborative projects assessed on courses and providing events online for informal networking, as well as setting up asynchronous meetings where students can talk to each other in real-time.

#3 Create virtual spaces and foster education experiences that encourage interactions

Institutions could look to offer multiple channels for communication in addition to email and the main teaching platform, whether that be Zoom, Google Classrooms, Microsoft Teams, or another mainstream platform.

This is where informal and beneficial connections can form online between students, so making the time to facilitate real-time discussions in break-out sessions, forums and boards can give students that sense of connectedness and belonging.

what are online classes missing

#4 Create a supportive learning environment

There are so many subtle ways to nurture a caring environment for students so that they feel connected, despite having to operate remotely. A great way might be to encourage the use of discussion groups to enable students to collaborate, post technical or content-related questions, and to help one another without too much tutor intervention. This can give the less vocal students another channel to share ideas and build their confidence and increase interactions with their peers.

Another way might be to create social spaces on Slack or WhatsApp so that the natural, random, and fun conversations can continue during this period when students are seeing each other far less.

#5 Use technology to create personalized learning journeys and connect students at similar stages

Learning is a continuum process, not just a scheduled experience, and technology can be really beneficial for students to be able to tailor their own education path and to learn collaboratively with their peers.

Slack and other technologies and applications allow for collaborative workspaces, educational chat, and sub chat channels that students can use to talk about specific topics, whether they be study-related or not.

slack mock up

Increasingly in the future, technology will not only be an enabler for personalized learning from the student perspective. By using data, institutions will be able to pinpoint more accurately where students are in their learning journeys and therefore to connect students who are at similar stages of learning to work collaboratively on tasks and projects that will be mutually beneficial to them.


Community is the key to successful remote learning experiences

For many of today's students, learning through social interaction is important, whether they are in class or having to study remotely.

Technology might not yet have reached a point where it can substitute in-person learning or social connections, but during these pandemic times, it's never been more important to find and implement new ways to use technology to support students, whether it be encouraging thought-provoking discussions or providing opportunities for social interaction in the many forms that takes online.

The social component of the university is required. The ways it's facilitated online is going to become more sophisticated.

What initiatives and combinations of technology are being used at your institution to help students connect with each other while they learn remotely? We'd love to hear.