Building community in online classes


A few days before Easter, Dr. Lena Welch heard her name being called from across the produce section of Kroger. She looked up, and immediately recognized the young man as Alex Stephens from a Trevecca Online course she was teaching through Trevecca’s School of Graduate and Continuing Studies.

Though they had never met in person, Dr. Welch knew it was Stephens by his voice, which she heard regularly via Voicethreads and Knovios, two tools Trevecca Online uses to communicate. 

“Alex starts every discussion post with the word ‘Salutations,’ so when I saw him in the store, I immediately said ‘Salutations, Alex!’” Dr. Welch said. “In other words, we were even able to tease each other as a result of the online course.” 

Even without traditional classroom or face-to-face interaction, it’s entirely possible for Trevecca Online students to feel a sense of community with their professors or other classmates. 

LaMetrius Daniels, director of Online Learning at Trevecca, explains how Trevecca Online professors make an effort to build the community with students.

Being able to hear and see the professor and other classmates helps students feel more connected to each other, and a tool called Voicethread does just that. 

“Voicethread is one of our biggest tools we use,” Daniels said. “[It] is a way to engage students using audio and video.” 

Some classes assign an introduction video instead of paper, which gives professors a better understanding of who is in the class. 

Professors aim to develop interactive content, such as polls and discussion forms, where questions are asked that students can respond to.

Tools like Skype or Blackboard Collaborate are used as collaboration tools, which allow students to meet with a team virtually, Daniels explained.

Implementing these methods allows students and professors to bridge the connection gap, which in turn builds a community that aligns with the University, Daniels said.

“We want students to know that we’re family, even if they’re in a virtual environment,” Daniels said.

Dr. Welch is thankful for her encounter with Stephens in the grocery store.

“The experience really made my day and further solidified my belief that we can build relationships with our students via Trevecca Online,” Dr. Welch said.