5 Building a Community

By the end of this chapter, you will be able to identify ways to build a community with students as a .

In this chapter

Building a community online

When students have the opportunity to interact with each other, they can form relationships, and make acquaintances which is important for developing social support, and a sense of community. Feeling a sense of community can be associated with more motivation to learn and effective learning.

As a TA, you can foster a sense of community by being socially present and by providing student-interactions at three levels: student-to-student, student-to-, and student-to-content. Implementing the following teaching techniques and activities goes beyond your basic role as a TA. These are only a few ideas of how to build a community with your students and we encourage you to explore other techniques.

Student-to-Student interactions

The goal of these interactions to provide opportunities for students to get to know one another. Below is a list of activities that you can implement with your group of students. It is important to do introductions on the first day, however, consider implementing these types of activities throughout the course. Better yet each session! Plan approximately 5-10 minutes for an activity with a smaller group of students (~15 people). For a larger group in an online setting (>15 people), consider using the breakout feature on Zoom or Adobe Connect.

Before introducing the activity, tell your students the purpose of the activity. Additionally, always give the option to participate. Some students may not feel comfortable participating in interpersonal activities in a course setting. Therefore, it is best not to force participation; rather allow them to pass when it comes to their turn.

Potential activities include:

Virtual introduction/check-in: Using a pass the ball/baton method, students will have the opportunity to introduce themselves, check-in with the group based on how they are currently doing and/or share a particular event with the group in a videoconferencing session (e.g., Zoom, Teams, Adobe Connect) or discussion forum. This can be open-ended or structured. Structured introductions could include, sharing your name, major, year you are in, where are you from/where you live now, plans after university.

Resource: How to create virtual check-ins

Poll questions: This can be done online, anonymously through a polling tool (e.g., Menti, Google Forum, Poll Everywhere) by asking students getting-to-know-you questions and forming a discussion about similarities and differences within the group of students. This can be implemented synchronously or asynchronously.

Resources: Advantages for poll questions, 10 ways to use poll questions

Student-to-TA interactions

Activities that foster student-to-TA interactions help build an inclusive, positive class environment and motivate student engagement in the class community. By implementing some of these activities in smaller groups of student, this could promote student-to-student interactions.

Potential activities include:

Co-create class expectations: Allow each student to provide expectations for and learning activities for the class. This can be done using an online polling tool (e.g., Menti, Google Forum) Alternatively, get students into groups of 2 – 5 to discuss, create a list of expectations, and send to the TA. The TA can follow up by summarizing and discussing the expectations with the students.

Resource: How to co-create class expectations

Start-stop-continue: Students can work individually or in small groups in a videoconferencing session to provide their thoughts on what their instructor should start doing, what they should stop doing, and what they should continue doing in the class/course. Additionally, this can be done asynchronously on Miro, Menti, Google Forums, Padlet, etc. TAs should follow up by summarizing the results and discuss how they plan on addressing the concerns.

Resource: How to implement start-stop-continue feedback

Interview the TA: Students can be put in small groups in a session to develop questions for the instructor. This could be in the context of getting to know the TA, or asking course content questions. As the TA, it is important to set clear boundaries as to what types of questions the students can ask. Alternatively, this activity can be implemented through an discussion forum.

Resource: How to implement the ‘interview the TA’ activity

Student-to-Content interactions

These activities will help students actively engage student’s with the material being learned through a DGD, lab tutorial, etc. Like student-to-TA interactions, implementing these activities in smaller groups could promote student-to-student interactions.

Potential activities include:

Think-Pair-Share: The TA poses a question, statement, issue, situation or idea to the students where they are first asked to individually think about the question (or statement, issue situation, or idea), then the students are asked to pair up and share/discuss their responses with each other. The TA can randomly choose pairs to elicit responses and engage students in a wider discussion around the topic. This activity works best through a videoconferencing session.

Resource: How to implement Think-Pair-Share

Ticket out the door: Also known as an exit card, providing an opportunity for students to give low risk feedback to the TA. It gives the TA some feedback about student learning as to what the students retained from a or lab session. You can identify a question that you would like your students to answer  during a session and they will need to complete this question before the class/session ends.

Resource: Types of ticket out the door questions.

Structured problem solving: This activity provides students with an opportunity to solve complex, content-based problems within a specific time limit. The TA can create problems that are complex enough that students are required to use sophisticated problem solving skills. The students can work in groups in a session to solve the problem using steps provided (e.g., Dewey 6-step Problem Solving technique). Alternatively, students can complete the content-based problems with provided instructions asynchronously and submit their work via Brightspace at a specific time.

Resource: How to use Structured Problem Solving

To go deeper
  • Here is a list of more specific active learning activities that you can implement in a DGD or laboratory setting.
Up next

The next chapter addresses what to do when things go wrong.

Please feel free to contact us at any time with questions, suggestions, and concerns. In particular, we check this form weekly and will continue to update this guide as the situation evolves.


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Remote teaching: a guide for teaching assistants by Meredith Allen; Alisha Szozda; Jeremy Kerr; and Alison Flynn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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