Throughout consultations and events this fall, instructors have shared that the “magic” of their typical, in-person class wasn’t as strong in their online or hybrid courses. The common thread among all the stories is that instructors are missing the closeness felt among students in the class. These stories drive me as a graduate student studying high-impact practices on student sense of belonging.
Defined broadly, high-impact practices (HIPs) are learning experiences that are made more meaningful because they typically ask students to invest lots of time and effort on purposeful intellectual and social activities (Kuh, 2008, p. 14). One of the ten types of HIPS is a seminar. Seminars tend to have that feeling of closeness because of the small class size, but there are other factors at play. Kuh (2008) notes that seminars tend to reduce anonymity, foster face-to-face peer and faculty interaction, encourage collaboration toward similar intellectual pursuits with people who are different, and promote frequent feedback from faculty (p. 14). Though these qualities are more present in in-person classes, there are tools online that can help build a class that feels as “psychologically small”, in Kuh’s words, as a seminar.
Reach Out with Care
Email all students regularly. Send emails of concern to the physically or mentally absent students. Send encouraging emails to students who are doing well. Thank the class for particularly engaging days with specific moments that you enjoyed as an instructor. If real-time emails are not possible with heavy workloads, schedule Canvas announcements to be released to pre-plan messages.
Check in with students using Poll Everywhere or any collaborative platform anonymously. You may ask students to personally share what went well this week, celebrating those great moments. Alternatively, you could also ask students to share their largest stressor this week to foster a sense of solidarity in the class against mutual challenges.
Support Collaborative Work
On a regular basis (4-5 weeks), ask students anonymously what is and is not going well with the course. Reflect on what is feasible to change. Present the results and discuss with the class how the course could be revised moving forward. Sticky notes in Google Jamboard is wonderful for quick responses in a synchronous course.
Instructors who engage in HIPS are building toward a more equitable classroom because participation in HIPs has a “compensatory effect” for historically disadvantaged students (Kuh, 2008).
For other tips on creating a psychologically close classroom, reach out to one of the CITL consultants for personalized ideas for your classroom! Consider attending a CITL workshop or contact our office for an individual consultation. Otherwise, Katie Linder’s (2018) High-impact Practices in Online Education: Research and Best Practices (via IU CAT) is a great resource for more on this topic.