How wonderful it is to chance on an excellent resource! And this I did on community building in the classroom. I am cognizant of the Community of Inquiry (cite) model that is used to design blended learning. Here are the seven principles behind the model (Garrison, 2017, p. 112):

1) Plan for the creation of open communication and trust
2) Plan for critical reflection and discourse
3) Establish community and cohesion
4) Establish inquiry dynamics (purposeful inquiry)
5) Sustain respect and responsibility
6) Sustain inquiry that moves to resolution
7) Ensure assessment is congruent with intended processes and outcomes

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Introducing the Resource: Columbia Centre for Teaching and Learning (n.d.). Building community in the classroom. . I enjoy the practicality of the article as they incorporate the principles into community building strategies, specifically:

1. Social icebreakers

2. Metacognitive activities

3. Content-based activities

The authors discuss how community building is vital to active student engagement. They cite research on how students experience a sense of belonging to their academic community and the interdependence of members. Importantly, through finding emotional, social, and cognitive support, they find the ability to engage in dialogue and reflection within the academic group and take ownership of their learning (Baker, 2010; Berry, 2019; Brown, 2001; Bush et al. 2010; Cowan, 2012; Lohr & Haley, 2018; Sadera et al., 2009, as cited in Columbia Centre of Teaching and Learning, n.d.). 

I like the classification into the three categories because they highlight key considerations. That community building is not just social – they encompass content-based and metacognitive activities, key aspects of setting the climate, selecting discourse, and selecting content. There are always overlaps. Here are some highlights from the article.

Social icebreakers – to design and facilitate rapport and to foster a safe environment. To relieve inhibition and tension amongst students. These activities not only help students acclimate to each other but also to the technological tools and platforms used in the class. Social icebreakers are usually used at the beginning of the course. They can also be planned strategically throughout the course depending on how students are working with each other. Examples include:

a. Interviewing each other: use conversation starters like what is your name? What is your major? Why are you taking this class? I would imagine this can also be done in a “speed-dating” format as a whole class or as subgroups.

b. Connections. Have students share what they have in common in groups of 4-6 and report back to the class.

c. Soundtrack of your life. Students can share soundtracks that resonate with their past, present, and future. This is a very creative way where students get to know each other’s music preferences even as they engage in explaining choices.

d. Sharing where they are from using icons on a map possibly on a Padlet.

Metacognitive activities. These include increasing the self-awareness of students as they engage in critical thinking and problem-solving. This enhances learning. In community building, students engage in collaborative activities and develop metacognitive skills through interactions and the building of shared learning experiences. They collectively reflect on and regulate their learning processes. Time needs to be dedicated to helping students understand the rationale of these activities and to motivating students to engage in them.

The following activities would be done individually or in small groups before sharing with the whole class. In an online context, breakout rooms can be used to create safe spaces for interaction.

a. Getting students to write down their personal definition of learning

b. Biographical writing prompts. Have students respond to specific prompts and have them write their reflections. Students respond to each other’s reflections.

c. Goal ranking and matching. Have students rank course objectives by importance. Students then write their own personal learning goals and also share them with the group and class.

d. Group reflection. After an assignment, students reflect on their work as a group – the accomplishment of goals, use of resources, strengths, and limitations, improvements.

e. Muddiest point Have students wrestle and clarify learning that confounds them through group discussions. The points can be compiled for the instructor’s attention.

Content-based activities. Students work with their peers in the community around content to achieve learning outcomes. These are group activities that typically start with some working in small groups and eventually sharing as a class. Students engage with course content in a collaborative manner with their peers and build a learning community with diverse opportunities for peer-to-peer interactions.

a. Concept-specific soundtrack: find songs that use certain concepts of a discipline 2. ask students to analyze the song lyrics 3. share their thoughts with the rest of class 4. debrief with students and deconstruct the implicit theories/concepts

b. Real-life examples: find an example in real life that connects to a course topic 2. document it via writing, videos, photos, etc. 3. have students post their examples on a discussion board online or a virtual whiteboard 4. during class, students share their examples either in small groups or as a whole class.

c. Favorite content sharing: share their favorite course/discipline-related content with each other and discuss why. 2. As a whole class, debrief and reflect together on the sharing activity. 3. opportunity to make connections between different points of students’ interests.

d. Concept mapping: use a collaborative document to create a concept map central to course 2. ask the spokesperson of each group to share the map with class 3. the instructor can use these maps to explain the organization of the course.

e. Resource sharing: allow students to share resources for any class assignment or project in an online repository space (links, photos, citations, etc). and ask each other questions. 2. to encourage students to take advantage of the collective repository, require students to use a minimum number of shared resources in their own assignments.

I hope to use these in working with faculty on blended learning and course design. They are practical and each example has a citation.

Community Building in the Classroom