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Thursday, June 23 • 11:30 - 12:20
CON06.10 - Decreasing Social Distance in Online Courses and Large Classes

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In online courses where communication is asynchronous and mediated by technology, engaging students can be challenging. In large F2F classes, engaging students can be equally challenging because mere physical presence does not ensure that students will be engaged learners. For example, in large first and second year courses, it is conceivable that students could go through the entire term not having met anyone else in the class. The impersonal nature of large classes can reduces students’ sense of responsibility for active learning and can lead students can feel anonymous, passive, isolated, and unmotivated (Trees & Jackson, 2007).

When students have the opportunity to interact with one another, they can make acquaintances and friends, which is the first step to developing social support, acceptance, camaraderie, and, ultimately, a sense of community. Feeling a sense of community at school is associated with increased motivation, greater enjoyment of class, improved conflict resolution skills, and more effective learning (Kangas Dwyer et al., 2009; Sawyer et al., 2009; Wilcox, et al., 2005). Instructors have the opportunity, and even a responsibility, to empower students by building classroom community in online and large F2F classes.

In this session we focus on the conference themes of empowerment and motivation by demonstrating activities designed to reduce the social distance in large F2F and virtual classes. We will demonstrate icebreakers and other activities that use learning technologies to promote student-to-student interaction, student-to-instructor interaction and student-to-content interaction in both online and large F2F classrooms. We will discuss factors to consider when implementing interactive activities, such as student differences and preferences as well as the timing, frequency, type, medium, and goal of these interactive activities, all of which can influence their effectiveness as tools of engagement. Participants are encouraged to bring a personal digital device to this session.


Kangas Dwyer, K., et al., (2004). Communication and connectedness in the classroom: Development of the connected classroom climate inventory. Communication Research Reports, 21(3), 264-272.

Sawyer, J.K., et al., (2009). To get-to-know-you or not to get-to-know-you: A two phase study of initial engagement activities. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 21(2), 187-196.

Trees, A.R., & Jackson, M.H. (2007). The learning environment in clicker classrooms: student processes of learning and involvement in university-level courses using student response systems. Learning, Media and Technology, 32(1), 21-40.

Wilcox, P., et al., (2005). ‘It was nothing to do with the university, it was just the people’: the role of social support in the first-year experience of higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 30(6), 707-722.


Jane Holbrook

Jane Holbrook is a Senior Instructional Developer in the Centre for Teaching Excellence at the University of Waterloo. Jane’s area of expertise is blended learning and she develops faculty programming on designing courses that integrate active learning into blended courses.

Christine Zaza

Christine Zaza is a Faculty Liaison in the Centre for Teaching Excellence at the University of Waterloo. Christine’s area of expertise includes the design of face-to-face, blended, and online courses, active learning strategies, and educational technologies.

Thursday June 23, 2016 11:30 - 12:20 EDT
Weldon Library 258