Professors should aim to create community in the classroom

By Raegan Turner | Staff Writer

We have all had that class where you walk in the first day, look around and see absolutely zero people you know. You awkwardly pick a random seat two chairs away from another student, and by the time the professor walks in, there’s an established empty space between every single person in the class. The only thing worse than that initial occurrence is replaying that same scene every single Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Sure, everyone has their unofficial assigned seat picked out, and we all kind of recognize each other’s faces, but from the beginning of the semester to the end, the only conversation made is between the professor and whomever they call on as they cycle through their PowerPoint presentations.

Baylor’s class sizes are smaller than other universities with comparable populations, however, this sometimes fails to quell the awkward, or sometimes just apathetic, classroom condition of people failing to be willing or able to make friends. These circumstances are not only uncomfortable, but they also put students at an academic disadvantage.

According to a study published in the International Journal of Education and Social Science, college students who report having “strong communal ties” are more likely to attend class, more likely to remain enrolled in class and more likely to graduate from college. The study also reported that the development of a classroom community has been proven to increase students’ overall academic performance along with other advantages.

“A shared sense of community has also shown to positively correlate with a student’s likelihood to contribute during class discussion, and to negatively correlate with a student’s feeling of personal anxiety in the classroom (Freeman, Anderman, & Jensen, 2010). Tebben (1995) found that a classroom community was not only one of the strongest contributors to student satisfaction, but also contributed to their actual academic performance. Meanwhile, Harris (2001) found that nearly 90 percent of students cited the creation of a classroom community as contributing ‘significantly’ to their completion of coursework,” the report said.

It is always surprising to me when professors do nothing to encourage kinship in their courses, especially in light of the benefits. Though I doubt it is formally included in their job description, creating community in their classroom should be a priority for our academic leaders.

Last semester, I was forced to participate in tiresome name games, dad jokes, lots of open discussion and even an extra-credit field trip one of my courses. There were about fifteen people in the class, and by the end of the semester, we had all bonded over the conversations and shared experiences cultivated by our professor.

Because of that course, I have new friends to grab food with on random afternoons or at least get excited to see when we pass each other on campus. These people I probably would have never known if not for the community formed through being forced to interact with each other in class. I also received the highest grade of all of my fall classes in that course, and I attribute it to the effort I put in because of the enjoyment I got out of getting to really know the people around me.

It does take time and effort for professors to help instigate this type community in the classroom, but the results of higher performance, improved mental health and increased competency of Baylor students is worth silly name games or integrating a group activity instead of another solo short response or PowerPoint lecture.