Using Social Media to Foster Class Culture and a Sense of Community in Online Courses

Building a sense of community and reflecting university culture in online courses is a consistent challenge for higher education faculty. Although it’s clear that student-faculty interactions both in and out of the classroom enhance student learning experiences and success in college (Astin, 1993; Pascarella, 1980; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991, 2005), faculty often struggle with replicating the type of meaningful and natural face-to-face interactions they have with students in online environments.

Perhaps the pursuit of replication rather than reinvention is part of the problem.

For better or worse, people inherently interact differently online. The key is to find new and creative ways to accomplish your objectives. One option for this is the use of social media. Both faculty and students who are drawn to online learning may feel a natural fit with social media because they tend to be more open and experienced using technology (Friedman, 2014).

Social media can be used in a variety of ways, however icons-social-media-icons-28“Babson Survey Research Group points to two main benefits of using social media in an online classroom: the sense of community it fosters among students, and the ability for students and professors to share information with each other” (Friedman, 2014, emphasis by author). Students can create introduction videos using Instagram, share resources using Twitter, collaborate and work on projects using private Facebook groups, or share reflections regarding class concepts using WordPress.

Social media can be used for informal, social interactions or as an alternative outlet for demonstrating higher-level thinking. For those who appreciate the look, feel, and functionality of a social media platform, but have concerns about how to manage one with students, Office 365 also offers a variety of apps that have equitable functionality (e.g., Teams and Yammer). The first step in determining what type of social media tool to try in an online class is to determine what aspect of your face-to-face course you want to reinvent. Once you understand the dynamics of what makes that aspect so valuable, you can research the best tools available to create an equal but different experience in an online environment.


Astin, A. W. (1993). What matters in college? Four critical years revisited. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Friedman, J. (2014). Social media gains momentum in online education.

Pascarella, E. T. (1980). Student–faculty informal contact and college outcomes. Review of Educational Research, 50, 545-595.

Pascarella, E. T., & Terenzini, P. T. (1991). How college affects students. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Google Scholar OpenURL

Pascarella, E. T., & Terenzini, P. T. (2005). How college affects students: A third decade of research. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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