Graduate Courses: Building Community

Building in-class community is even more important in the FHLE model than it is in physical classrooms, and will need intentional design and implementation. Some principles and dispositions to keep in mind:

  • Value the contributions of all members of a course as both responsive to work assigned and as constitutive of the content and aspirations of the course itself;
  • Be intentional about creating an inclusive, open, and collaborative environment in which to learn. Deliberate attention to inclusivity and cooperative dynamics is needed in the FHLE model. The individual experiences of students will be all the more determinative of their learning and development in courses as some or all aspects of these transpire in virtual platforms where students function in relative solitariness;
  • Try to inflect every aspect of coursework with strategies to encourage active learning, as opposed to passive absorption. Challenge students to take on this active, agentive role through a variety of strategies;
  • Challenges and mistakes are part of the environment of learning and are opportunities for growth. Incorporate a positive manner of addressing misfires or imperfect formulations, and model a welcoming posture towards vulnerability and development. A “growth mindset” (for both learners and teachers) has been shown to be a learning and development aid to students at many levels;
  • Be attentive to the variety of learning styles graduate students manifest and thrive with. Try to tailor aspects of a course and its assessment instruments to this variety of styles as realizable in the FHLE environment;
  • Ask for and demonstrate accountability for speech, behavior, and beliefs. Awareness of the diverse backgrounds, experiences, and expectations of students (without stereotyping, implicit bias, and generalizations) is essential to effective group dynamics in classes and in social settings.

Community-Building Challenges and Suggested Strategies

Department Social Events: Find ways to reproduce things like Fall kick-off parties, Holiday parties, end of year celebrations, awards ceremonies and routine group excursions. Some possibilities:

  • Zoom Calls, with or without options for group activities, breakout sessions, etc.
  • Group participation in external virtual tours of museums, webinars, trainings, etc.
  • Live-streaming remote award ceremonies akin to how Commencement processes worked.

Recognition: If your program does not yet make awards to graduate students for research, teaching, service, etc, consider adding this to the Departmental repertoire as a means of sparking investment and engagement.

  • Consider increasing the frequency with which achievements by departmental colleagues are recognized. Possibilities include:
    • Newsletters;
    • Individual announcements;
    • Using part of regularly scheduled social gatherings to highlight these achievements.

Reading Groups: Reading Groups that ordinarily occur in person can continue online, with the added opportunity of breakout sessions, screen-sharing, technological tool-use, and more. Encourage the development of reading groups, but be alert to the time constraints that people may experience in terms of access, workload, etc. Consider both synchronous and asynchronous elements of reading group functionality.

Hybrid/virtual versions of the usual kinds of community-building in courses and programs should be sought.

  • Small-group in class discussions could be effected in breakout sessions of Zoom, as space to use in FTF settings may be difficult to come by;
  • Annual symposia can be conducted in a Hybrid format, with those who can or choose to be present in FTF mode, while others participate via streaming technology that is carefully monitored by two people who are in the FTF setting.
    • Advance request of rooms with suitable streaming technology (that can both transmit from the room and project remote participants on screen if possible) should be undertaken as early as possible in the academic year;
    • FTF elements of symposia and social events must abide by Health guidelines outlined for the University if food and beverages are involved;
    • If classes move fully online, such symposia can be conducted in fully-remote modality and should be planned with this contingency in mind.

Consider modes of connecting graduate courses to those in other disciplines where interesting connections can be made.

  • See the Graduate Bulletin for listing of courses in GSAS for possibilities;
  • Such connections could be used to advance anti-racist teaching at the graduate level, seeking multi-disciplinary perspectives on the systematicity of racism and its lasting effects;
  • Such connections might help alleviate losses of cross-disciplinary activities arising from the normal movement around campus, common meals, live discussion groups etc.