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Building Community

Previously, we included community building in our discussion on Student Engagement. In this section, we want to continue this conversation with a focus on community building in hybrid teaching.

As previously stated, community building is about creating an environment where students and instructors are committed to a shared learning goal and achieve learning through frequent collaboration and social interactions. At the heart of every classroom is community fostered relationships. Studies show that when students feel that they belong to their academic community, they are able to engage in dialogue and reflection more actively and take ownership and responsibility of their own learning (Baker, 2010; Berry, 2019; Cowan, 2012; Liu et al., 2007; Lohr & Haley, 2018). A heightened sense of community allows students to feel that they matter to one another and that they can find emotional, social, and cognitive support for one another.

Community building is crucial to active student engagement across all course modalities. Students need to feel connected to one another and to their instructor. In a hybrid model however, it can be a bit more challenging to build connections and relationships between teachers and students. Instructors must then find a way to bridge the physical distance that separates participants, in order to create a warm class community. This can be achieved with intentional planning and deliberate pedagogical choices.

Tips for building community in Hybrid Classrooms

In a hybrid model, instructors can build community through various tools, techniques and learner-centered experiences. Below, we highlight 4 ways that this can be done:

  • 1. Put students’ well-being at the forefront of the hybrid environment
    Research shows that emotion is the entry point to motivation, cognition, and attention. With this in mind, it is important to establish protocols and procedures for checking on students, evaluating their needs, and identifying when instructors can help. In a higher education context, a student survey could reveal demands outside of school and other pressures that may interfere with the success of students in class. Instructors who show students they care and who genuinely work to help students in need will have motivated and engaged students.
  • 2. Articulate shared values and interests
    This is essential in all class communities. The fundamental challenges of negotiating classroom values are the same in both in-person and virtual learning spaces. There is still the need to balance freedom and openness with inclusivity and safety. There is also the need to promote comfort among participants in both class and group discourses.

    Articulating shared values is an important component of setting expectations for respectful community and managing incidents of exclusion and disrespect. Instructors are encouraged to model the kind of civil, courteous, and supportive discourse they want to have in their classes. Strive for a warm and supportive tone instead of impersonal.

  • 3. Maximize opportunities for shared communication processes
    It is very important to maximize the opportunities students have to communicate with one another and with instructors. Ensure that everyone understands what communication channels will be used and how often they will be used. Then, consolidate communication and limit the number and complexity of communication channels. For example, instead of bombarding students with information from multiple channels, Canvas can be used to create a “one-stop shop” with clearly organized, and essential information like due dates, policies, assignment descriptions, and announcements. Keeping things simple will help students feel comfortable – and make them more likely to stay engaged with your course.
  • 4. Incorporate lots of collaborative activities
    Physical distance does create an obvious space divide. However, instructors can use various tools to facilitate team-building and community building. These tools include: discussion forums, collaborative projects, wikis, blogs, and real time (synchronous) sessions.



Baker, C. (2010). The impact of instructor immediacy and presence for online student affective learning, cognition, and motivation. Journal of Educators Online, 7(1), n1.

Berry, S. (2019). Teaching to Connect: Community-Building Strategies for the Virtual Classroom. Online Learning, 23(1), 164-183.

Cowan, J. E. (2012). Strategies for developing a community of practice: Nine years of lessons learned in a hybrid technology education master’s program. TechTrends, 56(1), 12-18.

Liu, X., Magjuka, R.J., Bonk, C.J. & Lee, S.h. (2007). Does Sense of Community Matter? An Examination of Participants' Perceptions of Building Learning Communities in Online Courses. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 8(1), 9-24. Retrieved September 12, 2021 from

Lohr, K. D., & Haley, K. J. (2018). Using biographical prompts to build community in an online graduate course: An adult learning perspective. Adult Learning, 29(1), 11-19.