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 began teaching in the CCC system in 1999, has been teaching online since 2003, and has been an online educational developer since 2009. She also teaches the History of Photography online for Mt. San Jacinto College. Learn more about Michelle at or connect with her on Twitter @brocansky.


  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.

  6. Online teaching is 110% new to me after over 40 years of college teaching, but I am determined to make it happen in positive and enriched ways. Learning so much from all the additions from the other participants and have started a 3-ring binder of ideas to try with my own online students. I teach Child Development Courses and I like the family approach to topics early in the semester no matter what CD course I am teaching. That way – we can get to know the “fun” side of all of us by sharing a “favorite family activity”. Many will relate to a similar situation and the conversation will begin. These family activities could be playing or watching a specific sport, camping, hiking with family members, swimming or surfing at the beach, attending BBQs with S’mores and more. Then, once we know each other a little better, the study of Human Development will make a lot more sense. I am excited about this challenge.

  7. It is very important to create student to student interaction particularly since the classes are now online. Previously, the students can be divided into group when there were face to face classes. By selecting several topics(interconnected) and assign each group of the class a specific topic to discuss, and bring their findings on canvas. Then all students will study the different topics and the conclusions reached by different group. Ultimately, the class will convene in zoom sessions and the students participate in the discussions

  8. Whether in my class or in outside activities like advising DVC Model United Nations Club, I emphasize the importance of students sharing ideas, exchanging views and providing analysis and common understanding to the questions under discussions. Since I began teaching in DVC, I ask my students to prepare term-papers, present these papers in class, and allow their peers to discuss the facts presented in their papers. Many times students asked my that they had not presented their papers in front of their colleagues because there had been always concerns that they might have mistakes, I persuaded my students to be open to discussions and there should be no fear for criticism of their work by their peers. I assured students that that would be a better way to learn and to advance in their studies. I was happy when students came to me after their presentations and told me that they had learned from their experience.

  9. Pingback: Tools for Fostering Effective Student-Student Interactions – BC Academic Technology

  10. I have created some student-student discussions and projects and it’s always been a bit hit or miss. One assignment is re-writing a fairytale through the cultural lens of the group members which is always a popular assignment but still uneven when it comes to the groups themselves and their level of interaction. I like the idea of starting at the beginning of the semester and creating a class culture where groups is just how we do it.

  11. I try to highlight the importance of students sharing ideas, exchanging views and opinions, and analyzing the chapter questions in discussions. I humanize my courses through positive feedback and checking up on my students when they miss an assignment to see if I can extend the due date for the missed assignment. I reach out and discuss problems and missed assignments before students fail. I demonstrate concern and show interest regarding both their personal and scholastic life.

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