Spring semester started this week at Chippewa Valley Technical College. Through my experience as both a student and an educator, I have found a sense of community is key to success.
Research and common sense reveal students - traditional and non-traditional - are more engaged and participatory in an environment where they feel safe to share. Safe to process their learning, even the mistakes.
One of the techniques I use to help foster community in my courses is Facebook Groups. Each course has its own group. Students are required to join the group. I post relevant course information in it to add value, but the most value comes from students themselves. A student, or handful of students, will use the group to post questions about assignments, verify due dates, look for a buddy to attend a student event, or just vent. This encourages more participation and activity in the Group. Whatever it is, it extends relationships beyond the classroom. It makes everyone feel 'normal' and included.
College can be intimidating, so I will do whatever I need to make it easier for my students. This is a simple way.