Build and Sustain Course Community

One of the things we heard most from students after experiencing fully online courses at Harvard was how much they missed the informal meetings outside of class: a quick chat in the corridor between classes, a word with faculty after class, meeting up with a friend in the café. While we can't exactly replicate these experiences online, there are still many opportunities for maintaining community, even at a distance.

Connect in the Classroom

Many great conversations happen before and after class as people are settling in or heading out. Make sure that when you create your Zoom session that you enable participants to join before the host. This will let students come in early and have unstructured time to meet with their classmates who have loggined in. Try to have some time at the beginning of class as well for a "check-in." Make the most of the time you can see and hear each other in real time. Consider leaving the session open after class as well to let the conversations continue, even if you have to leave. Class time is stimulating! Just because the clock says class is over doesn't mean the conversation has to stop.

Some courses have made use of Zoom's "No Fixed Time" recurrence option to create a "virtual café" within the course site. This is a meeting always open where students can arrange to meet up at any time to work together, or just hang out.

Zoom is, of course, not the only tool in the community toolbox. Use the Canvas Discussion board at the start of term as a place where students can introduce themselves. Create a welcome thread and encourage everyone to share a bit about themselves and why they are taking the class.

Connect Around Harvard

Harvard's Socialize Remotely website allows everyone to explore a variety of online gatherings available to the whole Harvard community. You can even create your own event and publicize it on the site! Want to have a trivia night? Socialize Remotely is the place to advertise!

Learning Environment and Technology Restrictions

Students in some overseas locations may face challenges due to technology restrictions in their home countries. For more information, see Remote Teaching and Learning Challenges due to Learning Environment and Technology Restrictions in the Harvard University IT Knowledge Base (HarvardKey login required).