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.