There are many elements to forming community in an online course so I’m going to focus on one – time. I know one temptation is to utilize lots of synchronous time to form community. The more time together, more community, right? This is one area where the in-person experience does not translate to the online experience, IMO.
Though we haven’t finalized the schedule in my first year seminar (I want student input first), I have communicated one thing to my first year seminar students — I will not “reserve” more time than we will use. My initial thought is to meet synchronously for one consistent day each week. On the other Registrar “scheduled” days, I may be free, hold office hours, chat with interested students, etc., but I do not expect them to be available. Because we are online only, I expect them to schedule work shifts, study, eat lunch, knit, play Xbox, whatever.
Valuing their time and not asking them to hold time unutilized in reserve is part of community building for me because it honors students as individuals with complex, complicated, shifting lives of which my class is only a part. Clearly defining which part I’ll hold is a gesture of respect, and respect is vital for community.