Ohio University

Student leaders build community with peers

Published: October 1, 2020 Author: Jennifer Cochran

How do you build community when that community goes online? That’s the question that Ohio University’s Learning Community Leaders have been asked to answer this fall. As OHIO rolled out plans for a hybrid model of instruction, Learning Community Leaders (LCLs) stepped up to the challenge of helping first-year Bobcats engage and connect virtually.

Learning Community seminar classes (UC 1900) meet synchronously every week in a virtual format. Students who serve as LCLs work closely with class instructors and facilitate out-of-class activities. Those out-of-class activities help students connect with each other and provide a place to socialize and collaborate.

Bobcat friendships often blossom in Learning Communities where students share a common set of classes. Former LCL Miranda Gillilan met her best friends, connected with faculty in her college, and learned a great deal about the University in her Learning Community as a first-year student. That experience led her to become a Bobcat Student Orientation leader and LCL. She now supervises 46 LCLs as a graduate assistant in the Office of First-Year and Student Transitions.

Industrial systems engineering major Danielle Klein said even though first-year students may not get to connect in person, they can still form friendships that they will bring with them to campus. Though first-year students are mostly connecting with each other from their own homes, they do get to “hang out” and socialize virtually.

Kris Kumfer, director of Learning Community Programs, said LCLs are connecting with first-year students and building community in their groups using online LC Hangouts. “That’s where all of our activities are happening and it’s a great space for students to connect and communicate with each other,” explained Kumfer. Virtual Resident Assistants have been invited into the LC Hangouts where they will collaborate with LCLs to talk about living and learning in virtual environment.

Isaac Sharpeta, a first-year student learning from his home in Pittsburgh, said he has participated in out-of-class activities like trivia nights in his LC Hangout. “We always have our cameras on,” he said, explaining that his LC instructor breaks the class into small groups so they can more easily interact and form connections.

According to Klein, the LC Hangout is a good place to share information about events and for first-year students to talk to each other about classes and homework. As an LCL for Aviation and Computer Science Learning Communities she has upper-class students talk with first-year students about their majors and opportunities available in their academic programs. She says getting first-year students involved in virtual activities can be trickier than gathering for conversations and community-building over pizza or coffee, but that makes the connections first-year students are forming even more special.

“When it’s virtual like this you have to be more purposeful,” said Klein. Now instead of meeting up for conversation over pizza, students chat online and might get to know each other while folding towels into fun shapes like elephants as Klein’s students recently did.

LCL Rhianna Hunt has had to come up with fresh material so as not to repeat the same activities since some of the same biological sciences students she served during orientation are also in her Learning Community. She has brought her students virtually to campus sites like the college green and says her Learning Community instructor, Dr. Ian Klein, has taken students on virtual tours of some of the campus research labs. “Every week our class meetings get more relaxed,” said Hunt, noting that students are getting to know other and sharing experiences even though they arere not in shared spaces.

During Bobcat Student Orientation, Hunt began hosting work/homework parties online and has continued that with her Learning Community to support and connect her fellow students. “It kind of feels like we’re going to the library,” Hunt said. “Your cameras are on. It still feels like you’re with other people. I am so much more productive than when doing homework by myself.” Students in her Learning Community share a common set of classes so they can collaborate on homework assignments.

Undecided first-year students also share a common set of courses. “We all have three of the same classes so we’re able to discuss the best way to study,” said Sharpeta. “We have a lot of study groups and review sessions.” Since his Learning Community is dedicated to undecided students one of their activities included participating in the annual Majors Fair where students will have the opportunity to explore major options. Sharpeta said he has learned about study skills and resources, as well as how to use the library, in his Learning Community.  

Despite busy schedules of their own, LCLs thrive on helping first-year students connect to OHIO and each other.

Ellie Burke, a senior interactive media major in the Scripps College of Communication, leads a visual communication Learning Community. “I was also their orientation leader, so I was already a familiar face,” she said. Burke has had her LC students work together on small-group activities like a wellness scavenger hunt and engages them in out-of-class activities like arts and crafts and Netflix watch parties. She sets aside time during each meeting to check in and see how her LC students are doing. In her LC Hangout each week she answers questions, shares study tips, and promotes OHIO resources like tutoring.

In addition to leveraging familiar technologies and platforms, LCLs are also connecting their communities virtually with campus and community events and projects like OHIOwonderwall and Turn It Gold. For more information on Learning Communities and other first-year programming visit the First-Year and Student Transitions website.