SIP 11.15 Maintaining Community During a Pandemic

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Kelsey Kiernan studying in Civic Center Park.

We at MSU Denver have always had community-building on our collective mind. As a commuter campus, we must strive to bring our students together in ways that are not as simple as offering pizza and programming in a residence hall. Our efforts in this area set us apart from so many other institutions. The care, compassion, concern and opportunity for engagement that our student-service programs and faculty provide have consistently been amazing.

But since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, it is more important than ever to sustain our Roadrunner community in emotional and practical arenas. Emotionally, we can continue to support students and offer them meaning and motivation during this difficult time. Practically, we need students to remember their connection to the University so they re-engage and register for summer and fall classes and keep moving toward earning their degree.

It seems like maintaining community in our new virtual reality would be a tough challenge. But one of the great ironies of the coronavirus crisis is that social isolation has  brought us together in local, national and global society – each person in their own home but clearly and markedly together. How do we create and maintain community, though, when we are all dispersed throughout the city and never come together in person?

Take a SIP of this: maintaining community during a pandemic

However, as we have all learned through the quick pivot from face-to-face to online teaching, you can’t just snap a finger and re-create your work in a virtual environment. Don’t try to “replicate” online; instead, look for new ways to bring your students together. We are already making strides toward doing this in the classroom by showing students we are learning new things and trying new platforms, ideas and methods (even if our efforts meet with varying degrees of success). We can certainly go out on the same limb when it comes to creating and maintaining community.

Think of the ways in which we organically create community and categorize your efforts instead of trying to do the same things we did in person. Normally, we find community in family and home, neighborhood, school/work, interest groups such as religious affiliations or clubs, and also at the state and even national levels. Consider your sphere of influence with students and go from there.

Here are some thoughts on how to maintain community with your students:

  • Regardless of the levels of professionalism you may have maintained in your classroom before, the coronavirus may have you teaching in your pajamas with a cat on your desk, a kid in your lap and a full window into your dirty kitchen. Embrace it! Instead of glossing over the chaotic view, ask your students to share scenes from their isolation workspace and work conditions. This intimacy can build trust and bring the students in your class together as a “family.” If you don’t feel comfortable letting students into your own home, consider using a virtual background with MSU Denver images that evoke our Roadrunner family. Check out this Early Bird storyto learn how.
  • At the end of a semester, you may be tempted to close the chapter on each class and break off communication with that particular group. But in a few weeks, consider the impact of sending a quick email with a humorous video clip, a funny GIF that reminds you of the experience of that class or even just a few words that let your students know you are thinking of them and hoping their summer is going well. You could even sneak in a crafty question about their fall registration or ask if they need to connect with University support services. This little check-in will help prevent “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome and will remind students that they have a caring community on campus.
  • If you do send an email, pop in a big Roadrunner at the top. It is like virtually wearing swag. This will remind students that they belong at MSU Denver, wherever MSU Denver is and however we are learning together. You can find MSU Denver logos at Brand Centralon our website. Similarly, pop on your favorite MSU Denver T-shirt or sweat shirt. Every day is now Roadrunner Red Friday and jeans!
  • Communities are often defined by common goals and activities. When you engage with your students, remind them that we all share the goal of seeing them walk across the stage to receive their diploma. Knowing you have this “eye on the prize” mentality can motivate students to lean on you for what they need to keep progressing.
  • Welcome new members to your community. Work with your department chair to get a list of newly admitted majors and minors and reach out to let them know you are glad they are with us – whether you meet in a virtual visual setting or even via email or phone.
  • Don’t forget to fill your own community bucket. Reach out to co-workers and friends from school when they cross your mind. Use social media to keep in touch if that is comfortable for you. Your continued presence in the community is vital.
  • Ask students for their ideas on what they need and how to maintain community. As we know, we have many tech-savvy, digital-native and virtually connected students who often come up with the most creative ideas. Lean on them and their creativity and expertise to keep us together through this rough time.

Still thirsty? Take a SIP of This: Here are some resources you can use to keep supporting students virtually:

This Early Bird story links multiple support services in one handy list.

Connect students to the CARE team by submitting a CARE report.

The MSU Denver Alumni Association is a great mechanism for connecting students to members of their community and maintaining Roadrunner community long after graduation.

Further suggestions:

And finally, a scholarly article that discusses the development of a conceptual framework that encompasses the cognitive, socio-cultural, affective, behavioral, ecological and organizational factors that impact students’ engagement with the University.

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