Building Classroom Community

GSB students appreciate opportunities to interact and build community and relationships with each other and faculty outside of class time. Building community can help cultivate a sense of belonging for students and increase their confidence in the classroom. Below are ideas to help create these opportunities within the structure of a course. Read on to see which suggestions might work well in your classroom or spark new ideas you’d like to try.

Setting the Stage

Some strategies for community building can be especially useful at the start of the quarter to help set the stage for productive small group or one-on-one interactions throughout the course. You might consider the following:

  • Set classroom participation norms or agreements. Read more about establishing norms in the Playbook for Teaching.
  • Share a few relatable details about yourself in the first class and consider having students introduce themselves if your class size and time allow.
  • Learn students’ names and pronouns and how to pronounce them correctly. You can use SeatGEN on Canvas to help (ask your FA for more information).
  • Learn more about your students through a pre-course survey, student profile cards on Canvas via SeatGEN (ask your FA for more information), or their LinkedIn profiles.

Connecting with Students

You may also decide to create opportunities for you and your students to connect in individual or small group settings. Whether you choose to meet  virtually, in your office, just before or after class, or in common spaces such as Coupa or Arbuckle, students have found meeting with their professors valuable in deepening their connection to the course. Some options include:

  • Set up small group or individual “get-to-know-you” meetings at the beginning of the quarter.
  • Offer 1:1 or small group office hours to discuss course material.
  • Chat with students before and/or after class.
  • Hold coffee chats, lunches, happy hours, or other informal social activities to invite students to discuss their broader experiences at the GSB or their personal and career goals.
  • Extend interesting topics that emerge in class during extracurricular sessions such as informal conversation groups or more formal student panels.
  • Reach out directly to students who may be quiet or struggling to identify how they can best contribute to class and what support you might be able to offer for their success.
  • Send students a quick email thank you for their contributions, especially if you notice they’ve stepped out of their comfort zone.
  • Invite student feedback to discover what’s working and what else may contribute to building a positive class climate, either in a pre-course survey or a mid-quarter feedback survey.

Facilitating Connections between Students

You can facilitate connections between students in both small-group and whole-class settings. These activities may be part of your course design, or you can present them to students as optional. Here are some ways students might interact with each other, either in or outside of class:

  • Conduct icebreaker activities and polls.
  • Assign or support formal and informal small group work. These can include:
    • Study groups that provide each other support for completing course assignments.
    • Peer feedback sessions on completed assignments or assignments in progress.
    • Debriefing sessions for course activities such as lectures, readings, assignments, or simulations.
    • Deeper dives into course topics previously introduced by the instructor, such as with role plays, case studies, discussion questions, or problem sets.
    • Reflections on their learning in the course (e.g., synthesizing what they are learning and how it is relevant to them and their career path).
  • Occasionally form groups of students with diverse experiences and backgrounds to allow for cross-learning.
  • Set up asynchronous discussion tools like Slack or Canvas Discussions to provide an opportunity for students to continue conversations, ask and answer questions, or share relevant resources outside of class time.

Bringing Student Voices and Expertise into the Classroom

As student voices are welcomed into the classroom, students can learn from each other and develop confidence as their contributions are discussed and amplified. Consider the following ideas:

  • Invite students to share personal experiences, perspectives, or goals.
  • Invite students to share their expertise on course-related topics and explicitly refer back to students’ contributions when possible.
  • Draw on information given in a pre-course survey or students’ Canvas profile cards (your FA can help) to invite students to share relevant perspectives.
  • Make a clear statement in class and/or in your syllabus that you welcome the diversity of perspectives that exists in your classroom and explain why this is important. See below for an example from Associate Professor of Marketing Szu-chi Huang.

Here’s how student panelists have explained the value of bringing student expertise into the classroom:

Student quote: In discussion, it’s great when professors understand who is in the room and who their audience is. They can draw on the perspectives of students in the room who have experience or background relevant to the case. For other students, It’s a chance to hear from peers who have done incredible work and have a different perspective. The GSB is an incredible collection of people, and being able to draw on that in discussion was very helpful. 

Student quote: I really appreciate when professors send out a survey before class asking students about their professional expertise. When the professor sends out those surveys and later says, “Hey, [student], you have experience with this – what do you think about this new [product]? Would you invest in this or that?” I think that’s a really good way to encourage people to speak. 

Associate Professor of Marketing Szu-chi Huang describes how she frames the need for diverse perspectives in the classroom, even when tackling challenging topics:

I explain to students that when we look at numbers we often focus on the average, but when we do that we miss so much information, because the variance is really the most important part that helps us interpret how reliable the average is. When discussing difficult topics, it’s about plotting and understanding different voices, rather than finding an “average” conclusion.

Hear more from Szu-chi Huang about bringing student voices into the classroom in her presentation (6:30) during the Faculty Showcase on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.