Student-Student Interactions Professional Development Guide

Learning is a social process. That’s why active learning has long been touted as an exemplary instructional approach for college classes — whether they’re taught in a traditional classroom or online. It’s also why student-student interactions are part of the CVC-OEI Online Course Design Rubric and are now part of the Title 5 Education Code for California Community College Distance Education courses (Instructor Contact, Section 55204). Peer-to-peer interaction is foundational to developing a sense of community in your online courses. But meaningful interactions don’t just happen; they are fostered through effective course design and teaching.

Neuroscientists like Antonio Demasio have shown that thinking and feeling are not distinct processes. Rather, feelings directly impact human reasoning and behavior. Thinking and feeling are inseparable from one another. And if you apply that to the way you teach, you’ll notice big shifts in your students’ engagement. Research shows that online classes can make some students feel more isolated, which can further exacerbate the feelings of stress and marginalization that many community college students experience. Throughout their lives, many of our students have been informed through the media and other messages that they’re not cut out for college. It’s your job to let them know, “I believe in you. You’ve got this.” Just like in your face-to-face classes, validating your online students and establishing that your class is a safe place are the first steps to establishing a sense of belonging for your students (Rendón, 1994).

Providing low-stake opportunities that enable students to draw upon the wealth of experiences they bring to your class is also key. Doing so demonstrates that you value your students’ diverse experiences and perspectives, as noted in the Peralta Equity Rubric. As students share what’s meaningful to themselves, they will feel more included in your class and will also recognize things they have in common with their peers. When names on a screen begin to transform into human beings with rich stories, your class is on its way to becoming a community.

To support you in your efforts to foster student-student interactions and build community in your online courses, CVC-OEI/@ONE has developed a Student-Student Interactions Professional Development Guide, which you’ll find embedded at the top of this page. We’ve shared the guide with a Creative Commons-Attribution (CC-BY) license and provided it in Google Slides format to make it easy for you to copy, adapt, and re-use as you’d like. In the guide, you’ll find:

  • References to research that will help guide meaningful conversations with your faculty peers about the recent Title 5 change,
  • Recommended CVC-OEI/@ONE courses and PocketPD,
  • Video tours of online courses showcasing assignments in Canvas,
  • A collection of assignment ideas, shared by California Community College faculty

Leave a comment below to let us know what you think and how you plan to use the guide or share your favorite strategy for fostering meaningful interaction in your online course.

Posted in Course Design Showcase, equity, Equity, humanizing, Online Teaching, professional development, Rubric Section B, Uncategorized.

Michelle (@brocansky) is Faculty Mentor, Online Teaching & Learning for @ONE and CVC-OEI and author of Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies. Michelle's work ensures CCC faculty and staff have opportunities to engage and develop through networked learning and the use of emerging technologies. Learn more about Michelle at


  1. I am going to create discussions centered around:
    1) difficult topics for the students based on average group scores, feedback on assignments, and topics that they think that they need further clarification on have more questions.
    2) Discussions on final projects to share ideas and answer questions.

  2. An example of making it meaningful for students would be a discussion on families. i would have students share photos or a short video and tell a short story about their families; the other students would ask questions and comment. I feel that this would both humanize the class, create a bond and make it feel more like a community. It would make for more engagement.

    By adding graphics, videos, and photos another dimension is created, interest is stimulated and engagement achieved.

  3. One way of adding the human element into the classroom is by checking with students on how they are doing both in terms of their personal life as well as their academic life. Being aware of both can help the student and the teacher help each other in meaningful ways so that both can learn and benefit from the class. I think the inclusion of current issues and inviting their responses through discussions and essays and asking them to share stories – personal or from the media – that touched them could also help humanize the course. It can generate discussions into issues that have meaning for them and that they are passionate about.

  4. I am excited by the prospect of bringing online learning to under-served communities. Once the minimum requirements of laptop/wifi are satisfied, no member of any community should feel left out. My method of humanizing my course is to give my background as a badge of commitment to them; I was fortunate to have received and now pledge to teach chemical concepts and calculations in simple (first) and progressing toward solutions to complex problems. My job is to show them that I can do just that.

  5. I am completely new to online instruction. I teach Spanish. I realize that I can apply my face-to-face activities to the online experience through Zoom and Discussion boards. My challenge is translating my activities requiring physical movement in the classroom to sit-down computer use.
    I humanize my courses through positive feedback, checking up on my students who disappear from class, applauding their output in class (accompanied by the applause of my students), reacting to their personal comments with genuine interest and follow-up questions, demonstrating a sense of humor, and asking them to relate their personal experiences to our classroom activities.
    I enjoyed watching Chelsea’s video. Her student-to-student interaction was genuine and enthusiastic. Students responded with enthusiasm to the technology of delivery. I appreciated the information about the change to Title 5.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.