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Fostering Social Connections while Teaching Online

ESA Water Cooler Chat ~ May 8, 2020 

For most students part of the educational and learning experience is the sense of belonging in a learning community. How do we maintain that sense of a learning community now that we have shifted to remote teaching and learning? Bring your favorite beverage and join us for some examples, share your own examples with the community and to listen directly from students.

Hosted by:
Jorge Ramos, PhD. , Stanford University

Special Guests:
We are thrilled to be joined by SEEDS alumni and TAs in the following institutions:
Kathryn Bloodworth, University of North Carolina – Greensboro
Diana Guzmán Colón, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Evan Perkowski, Texas Tech University


Staying connected:

  • If possible, send mail to your students, for example post-cards from the college/teaching space or stickers of a place you were previously connected. 
  • Offer more welcoming and more friendly spaces to share class projects/results, for example a blog:
  • Offer telephone or no video Zoom conversations because some students are intimidated with the face-to-face interaction or the prospect of revealing their home situations invisible on campus
  • Use “living documents” to see what students are doing e.g .through Blackboard or Google Apps 
  • Use Google forms to encourage anonymous communication, include open response forms


Add flexibility to classes through a variety of platforms with a community component: 

  • Add fun relaxing slides at the beginning of the class. Take advantage of the zoom whiteboard and do a community drawing of the subject.
  • Put students in small “break-out” groups before class or during class breaks for them to give them the option to chat among themselves. In our virtual ecology hikes, you can also form breakout groups during the “hike” time before your next round of presentations. and check out their presentations here:
  • For intro bio, set up active learning, inquiry-based modules and have students look at primary literature, citizen science and camera trap data like HHMI Biointeractives. They have Excel sheets ready for students to use. Students watch the videos and come up proposals after watching the videos.
  • When teaching labs, offer many different types of remote teaching options. For example, offer pre-recorded weekly labs background of the general scientific information that they needed to understand the lab (~20 mins)
  • Use interactive recording and animations in Powerpoint so students can follow along with the slideshow 
  • Offer “office-hours” on Zoom even after 5 pm as it is important to be flexible since a lot of students hold full time jobs or had to watch siblings while their parents worked, etc. 
  • When teaching statistics, moving virtually was not as hard as most of the content was already accessible to do it virtually (posting PPT and R codes). R for Data Science:


Staying connected in graduate school cohorts:

  • Let students mobilize and build their own virtual meetings. Look out for other university-wide initiatives that are virtual hosting events. These can include not just happy hours but also virtual seminars, webinars, virtual recreation and health events. 
  • Lab community will find different ways to stay connected, for example some people have moved to Zoom, others have moved to Slack or Microsoft Teams. Other platforms include WhatsApp, Groupme, Google Drive, blog. 


Welcoming new students new cohorts to campus in the new semesters/quarters:

  • Consider pecha kucha flash talks where students introduce themselves and their interests.
  • Make sure you also link to many other virtual resources from your campus to ensure you are being inclusive when virtually welcoming new students to your program. Look for student organizations or student chapters such as Queer Student Resources, SACNAS Chapters, SEEDS Chapters, etc.