Sustaining Community

In many courses, in-person class time provides students and instructors with a "home base." While Canvas sites are, in many cases, beginning to fulfill this role, for many courses—particularly those which are smaller—class times are where students get their "map" of the term: what has happened, what will happen, what they have to do. It's also where they get a sense of belonging, a sense that the class is a community of which they are a welcome part. As we note on our page about assignments, in-person course meetings are filled with dozens of small conversations and micro-interactions that give students this "map" and this sense of belonging, many (most?) of which don’t even involve the instructor: a student might quickly look over a peer's shoulder to see which PDF he or she has open, ask a student sitting nearby to confirm the deadline for a paper assignment, or venture a guess to their neighbor before daring to answer an instructor's question in front of the whole class.

In-person meetings also provide instructors and students the opportunity to give and receive immediate feedback, whether through a quizzical look, a sea of raised hands, or staying a few minutes after class to ask a question. This type of feedback is much more difficult to capture online, so providing additional time for questions within an online lecture or discussion boards on Canvas will help everyone stay connected and on the same page.

Instructors looking to recreate these aspects of face-to-face course meetings online might try some of the following:

  1. Create a document that serves as a "one-stop-shop" for students in need of orientation. In an ideal, perfectly planned world, perhaps the syllabus could provide this, but if you are like most of us, your syllabus evolves over time, and whats needed is a living document that continues to represent a "map" of the course for your students. For some, Canvas may be the most natural tool, but others might find a simple Google Doc can serve this purpose.
  2. If the everyday interactions that ground students are no longer going to happen as a matter of course, think about scheduling them intentionally. If there are three key things students need to know to orient themselves in your class, help them out by putting them into pairs or small groups in Zoom to ask the simple questions that will get them talking about these key orienting points ("what’s the reading for next week?" or "what are you going to write your midterm paper on and are we clear on when it's due?"). You could build this time into the beginning of each online session.
  3. While we typically focus first on making sure the students can see and hear the instructor, it's equally crucial that students are seen and heard (and that they feel they are seen and heard). This, too, takes additional structure and intentionality online. Even if you are reluctant to structure student contributions in a traditional classroom (i.e. by going around the room and asking each student to make a comment, or by having structured student presentations), you might think of doing so in the online environment to help ensure that each student feels connected with the course.
  4. In the spirit of maintaining this connection, consider scheduling more individual check-ins with your students, as possible. Depending on the size of your class and your teaching team, you could offer mandatory online office hours for individuals, pairs, or small groups, to make sure students stay connected with each other and with the TFs/other members of the teaching team. These could be structured around upcoming assignments, outstanding student questions, or focused on peer review or other ways to make sure students are connecting with each other and the teaching staff about the course materials.

Academic Technology for the FAS / HUIT

Your starting place for learning about and accessing many of the technological tools you may need, such as Zoom, Canvas, and related plug-ins.

The Vice Provost for Advances in Learning (VPAL)

VPAL convenes university-wide conversations about teaching and pedagogical research, particularly in the online space.

The Office of Undergraduate Education (OUE)

OUE oversees, and stewards resources devoted to, the undergraduate curriculum at Harvard College..

The Division of Continuing Education (DCE)

DCE offers a mix of in-person, hybrid, and online courses, and their staff are experienced in thinking about multiple ways to achieve your goals through different mediums.

SEAS and the Division of Science

Advice on teaching in the sciences.

The Harvard Libraries

Request help modifying/troubleshooting your research-based assignments.

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Schedule a consultation with the Bok Center's Senior Staff. (Please note that consultations are available only for Faculty and Teaching Fellows in the FAS.)

Faculty can visit our daily office hours, every Monday–Friday 10:30–11:30 AM; register for a one-hour practice teaching session; and request in-class support for your first Zoom meeting.

Daily Office Hours  |  In-class support

Teaching Fellows can attend the Fall Teaching Conference, which includes both asynchronous Canvas resources and synchronous sessions devoted to collaboration and practice.

Fall Teaching Conference

The media production staff of the Bok Center's Learning Lab can provide consultations for faculty teaching Harvard College courses using Zoom and other modes of media capture. We can provide suggestions for setting up remote video capture environments in your home or office, and on ways to integrate media into your courses.  Please contact us if you would like to discuss your needs with our staff.

Email the Learning Lab  |  Request a Media Tutorial

Reimagining the Fall Teaching Conference

Reimagining the Fall Teaching Conference

September 21, 2020

In the midst of a pandemic, many global challenges, and the prospect of a fully remote fall semester, the Bok Center spent the summer grappling with a multitude of questions: How should we prepare graduate student TFs to teach remotely? How could we reimagine our flagship event, the Fall Teaching Conference, usually a bustling two-day conference held in Sever Hall the week before classes start? How could we meet the needs of both new and experienced TFs facing an unprecedented semester?

Like instructors everywhere, we couldn’t take anything for granted. We...

Read more about Reimagining the Fall Teaching Conference
Machine in deep sea

Dispatches from the Field: Teaching Innovation Videos

September 16, 2020

Back in July, Peter Girguis, Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, reached out to the Bok Center after a series of informal conversations with faculty colleagues about their innovative ideas for the upcoming semester, which would be taught entirely remotely. The faculty Girguis encountered were working hard across the summer to develop innovative, rich experiences for undergraduates in the fall. While some types of...

Read more about Dispatches from the Field: Teaching Innovation Videos
hands over table stretching out rubber bands with words "Lengthen," "Emphasize," and "Slower" written on them

How Do You Hone Your Oral English Language Skills?

August 12, 2020

The Bok Center’s Professional Communication Program for International Teachers and Scholars supports international PhD students in developing oral English proficiency, cross-cultural understanding, and teaching skills. We recently sat down to talk with two students who have participated in the program over the past two years. We asked them to share how they developed their oral English communication skills to prepare to be teaching fellows as well as advice they would give incoming international PhD students, based on their...

Read more about How Do You Hone Your Oral English Language Skills?
More