Online Course-in-a-Box

Table of Contents 
Student Connections
Fostering Student-to-Student Connections

In the face-to-face classroom, students often interact with one another as an ordinary part of the learning experience. They chat before and after class, they participate in group discussions and lab experiments, and they build relationships through study groups and other course-related interactions. In the online classroom, however, the loss of student-to-student proximity means that instructors must explicitly include design elements that foster meaningful student interactions. This can include formal activities that capitalize on the “anytime, anywhere” nature of online learning in order to create student-to-student engagement, as well as informal activities that rely on sound pedagogy to cultivate the feeling of community among students.

Best Practices

  • Provide opportunities for students to engage socially. Use “icebreakers” and other “get to know each other” strategies to counteract some of the social detachment felt in an online environment. When these strategies are used throughout a course (and not only at the beginning), the possibility to create social connectedness among students increases.5
  • Build intentional learning communities. Set clear standards and structure for students to engage with one another through discussion boards, peer evaluation, and group work. 4
  • Use technology to enhance collaboration. Integrate traditional and non-traditional learning tools into your course. Traditional tools like blogs and wikis help build a constructivist learning environment that requires students to engage with one another in a meaningful way.3 Non-traditional tools like Twitter and other social media can be incorporated in the online environment as a means to facilitate student-to-student interactions. 1
  • Design discussions and group assignments carefully. Keep discussion groups small so that students are able to process the conversation and meaningfully contribute, and provide enough time for students to participate in discussions.  For group work, provide clear guidelines for group roles and assignment goals, and provide feedback to groups throughout the process.2
  • Want more ideas? Check out this tip sheet for more information on how to foster student-to-student interactions in your online course.


Icebreaker Discussion Examples (Word)

  1. Baird, D. E., & Fisher, M. (2005/06). Neomillennial user experience design strategies: Utilizing social networking media to support “always on” learning styles. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 34(1), 5-32.
  2. Bart, M. (2011). Fostering student interaction in the online classroom. Faculty Focus.
  3. Beldarrain, Y. (2006). Distance education trends: Integrating new technologies to foster student interaction and collaboration. Distance Education, 27(2), 139-153.
  4. Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (2007). Building online learning communities: Effective strategies for the virtual classroom. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
  5. Slagter van Tryona, P. J., & Bishop, M. J. (2009). Theoretical foundations for enhancing social connectedness in online learning environments. Distance Education, 30(3), 291–315.