Building A Sense of Community in Online Courses

Grant programExploring Well-being in Learning Environments: An Integrated Seminar Series and Grants Program

Grant recipientSuzanna Crage, Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Project team: Ece Arslan, research assistant

Timeframe: January 2021 to July 2021

Funding: $4,593

Courses addressed

  • SA 257 – Understanding Quantitative Research in Sociology and Anthropology
  • SA 355 – Quantitative Methods

Final report: View Suzanna Crage's final report (PDF) >>

Description: This project explores ways of building a sense of community in a class, focusing on instructor immediacy and its potential impact on student well-being. Many scholars have found that a sense of community in online classes improves students’ satisfaction with their experience and their sense of perceived learning and achievement (see Trespalacios and Perkins 2016 for a discussion of the literature). It may or may not affect externally evaluated student learning.

I am interested in how feeling a sense of community is related to two components of student well-being: overall well-being and a sense of anxiety about the class. Some research has found that increased interaction and sense of community can decrease student anxiety about stressful classes (e.g., Harris et al 2020); I want to investigate whether a stronger sense of class community is also related to overall student well-being.

I will evaluate the impact of offering out-of-class “Ask Me Anything” sessions, where students engage with the professor and each other about topics unrelated to the course. I will also compare outcomes between two courses that are similar in topic and structure, except one is taught remotely (online but with synchronous class meetings) and the other is a completely asynchronous online course.


Cho, Jeff and Carrie Demmans Epp. 2019. “Improving the Classroom Community Scale: Toward a Short-Form of the CCS.” Presented at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting at Toronto, Canada.

Harris, Breanna N. Pumtiwitt C. McCarthy, April M. Wright, Heidi Schutz, Kate S. Boersma. 2020. “From panic to pedagogy: Using online active learning to promote inclusive instruction in ecology and evolutionary biology courses and beyond.” Ecology and Evolution 10 (22): 12581-12612.

Trespalacios, Jesus and Ross Perkins. 2016. “Sense of Community, Perceived Learning, and Achievement Relationships in an Online Graduate Course.” Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education-TOJDE 17(3): 31-49.

Questions addressed:

  • What is the impact of the Ask Me Anything sessions on students’ sense of well-being and class community?
  • How important as community-building course components do students rate Ask Me Anything sessions compared to components like small-group activities and discussion forums, and course-wide discussion forums?
  • Do these vary between classes with and without synchronous class meetings?

Knowledge sharing: I have been discussing this project with colleagues in informal ways, through conversations, and as part of a department workshop on remote teaching that I organized in August 2020. I am also incorporating what I have learned in current university projects.

I plan to submit a paper for presentation at the 2022 Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Annual Conference, and other venues as appropriate.

Keywords: Instructor presence; Student well-being. Sense of community; Group activities; Group discussions; Student-teacher interaction; Online instruction; Online course design; Class engagement