While students who attend classes on campus are exposed to the diverse student population of their college/university as they attend classes, walk across campus, and eat in the dining hall, online students may not even have a picture of the other students in their classes. Likewise, while college campuses might strive to create community through campus events, clubs, and school spirit, online students can be left out of the loop because they are spending time in an online environment.
Whether they are returning students or first time attenders, online students likely have families, jobs, and other responsibilities that prompt them to choose to take their classes online. So, they may know about campus events, but not have the time or ability to get involved. Regardless of their other commitments, it is likely that online students are simply missing all of the flyers posted about campus, the buzz from other students, etc, that help to spread the word about those events.
Online students, who already can feel disconnected from their fellow students and their instructors, can feel even more distant from the campus itself. Since we know that being a part of the community is one of the key components to student success, it is important to help students in online classes connect with each other and with what is happening on campus.
Taking photos of flyers and posting upcoming events in the online classroom is a simple way to engage students. We might also encourage students to attend particularly important events by creating assignments tied to those events, even for extra credit. Inviting students to campus for conferences is another way to engage students in the campus community–offering ‘swag & chocolate’ for students who drop by on certain days is another fun way to get students on campus.
While this task is perhaps more easily accomplished by full time faculty with offices on campus than by those of use who live in the online realm 100% of the time, it doesn’t take much extra time to create a space for students to feel connected with the campus culture and with each other. If it supports student success, I think it’s worth doing.