Building a sense of community in online courses

Patrick Dougherty, Aya Shinozaki Dougherty


From the first months of 2020, COVID-19 transformed the landscape of education world-wide. Numerous educational institutions were forced to move their courses online due to the circumstances of the pandemic. This was the case at Akita International University in Akita, Japan. As the semester came to a close in July 2020, students were given an opportunity to reflect on their experiences with online education via end-of-term course evaluations, focus groups, and public meetings with university administration. From the results of these opportunities to share experiences in remote and virtual education, the authors were reminded that online learning can be a lonesome endeavor. However, it does not need to be this way. A sense of community, camaraderie, and shared purpose can be developed within the online teaching and learning environment. This article will offer suggestions generated from the authors' experiences. All suggestions have the authenticity of having been successfully utilized in the authors' online classrooms.

Keywords: online education, academic community, ice-breakers, check-in activities, student hallway conversations



Patrick Dougherty, Ed.D.

The author is a Dean of Academic Affairs, Head of the English for Academic Purposes Program and Foreign Language Education, Director of the Active Learning and Assessment Center, and a Professor of International Liberal Arts at Akita International University, Akita, Japan. He holds a Master of Arts in History and a Master of Education from Northern Arizona University and a Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics from the University of Southern Queensland. Additionally, he holds a Doctorate in Education in Educational Administration from Northern Arizona University. He has been an educator for over 30 years, with 14 of those years being at the junior high and high school levels and the rest being spent teaching and working in university undergraduate or graduate education.

Aya Shinozaki Dougherty

The author has been an educator for 22 years and currently teaches English for Akita Prefectural University. Prior to this current appointment she taught English courses and Japanese Culture and Language courses for the Higher Colleges of Technology and the Naval College in the United Arab Emirates. She has also taught English for the University of Hyogo and was a secondary school teacher in the United States. She holds teaching licenses in the United States for social studies, English as a Second Language, and Japanese Language. Additionally, she has a Master of Education in Bilingual Education from Northern Arizona University.

About the article


The article is in the printed version on pages 72-78.

pdf read the article (English)

How to cite

Dougherty, P. & Shizoanki Dougherty, A. (2020). Building a sense of community in online courses. e-mentor, 4(86), 72-78.