Student connectedness begins with faculty

By Anne Coulter and Michelle Guile

The Winter 2022 semester is fast approaching. In just a few weeks, PSB will welcome another new cohort of students onto our campuses and into our virtual classrooms. It’s an exciting time to get to know our students and for students to get to know each other. 

Student feedback from the Fall Orientation sessions was clear: Our students want to socialize and make connections with their instructors and with each other. Out of the 250 new PSB students who completed the Fall Transition Well survey, 30 per cent indicated they wanted more opportunities to connect with classmates, with 73 per cent of students sharing they most enjoyed spaces where they could talk to each other. One student shared that they would like “more guidance on how to connect virtually to [other] classmates,” while another mentioned that “being able to connect to other students from my class helped me stay abreast of the latest updates.” Providing opportunities for students to meet with each other not only creates a sense of connectedness, but also helps them learn to navigate course requirements resourcefully.

According to Dr. Alf Lizzio’s Five Sense Model, students with stronger connections are more likely to be successful learners, effective colleagues and happy people. A student’s sense of connectedness depends on the quality of relationships with peers, with staff and their feelings of identification or affiliation with their school or university (Lizzio, 2006).

A sense of connectedness begins with faculty. Professors can provide opportunities in Week One to encourage student interactions through icebreaker activities. 

“Icebreakers reduce both student and instructor anxiety,” reports the Lansing Community College, Center for Teaching Excellence. “[They] foster both student-student and faculty-student interactions; create an environment where the learner is expected to participate, the instructor is willing to listen, and where learners are actively engaged from the onset; convey the message that the instructor cares about getting to know the students; and make it easier for students to form relationships early in the semester so they can work together, both in and out of class.”

Need some new Icebreaker ideas? Try one of these:

  1. 65 Icebreaker Questions for Online Meetings
  2. Ice Breakers for Online Classes from University of Waterloo
  3. Teach Well
  4. Ditch That Textbook – Google Jamboards
  5. 10 Online Icebreaker Games
  6. Supporting faculty to create a healthy and engaging learning environment
  7. Icebreakers from Cornell University
  8. Icebreakers for the college classroom
  9. 60 Awesome Icebreakers for Orientation and Beyond

Icebreakers not your thing? There are a lot of other ways professors can build students’ sense of connectedness within the first few weeks of classes through structured learning activities. In fact, students have indicated that creating real-life examples and scenarios in class can better support their learning and opportunity for connecting with others, and feel “less forced.” Some strategies faculty can explore include: 

  • Interactive, reality-based scenarios (e.g., “You’ve been placed on a new team for a case. Spend some time getting to know each other before diving into the content.”)
  • Group collaboration exercises using either virtual breakout rooms or small groups in person. These can include one or two questions at the start that allow group members to get to know each other.
  • Active learning activities that connect classmates with each other
  • Effective online discussion boards to create opportunity for engagement with one another

Interested in reading more about the components of connectedness and Lizzio’s Five Senses Model? See http://janetscanvas.sheridancollege.ca/transitions/

For more information on interactive and collaborative teaching strategies, go to  https://central.sheridancollege.ca/online-teaching-resources-support


Anne Coulter is a first-year experience coordinator with Student Affairs. Michelle Guile is a professor and academic advisor with the Pilon School of Business.

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