Nicki Murff Goedecke

    Pocket Nurse® recently sent out a survey (view the survey here) asking healthcare educators to share the challenges they are facing as they transition to online education. Many educators responded that they are struggling to engage their students and build camaraderie among their class.

    With so many instructors experiencing this difficulty, it can be helpful to know that you are not alone. Students and faculty all over the world are adjusting to remote school and work – and learning the good news that team building can still happen, even when a team is apart.

    This week and next, SimTalkBlog™ will look at ways to build camaraderie and engage students, respectively. Today, we’ll look at three tips for building camaraderie.

    Why Camaraderie Matters

    Camaraderie refers to a “mutual trust and friendship among people who spend a lot of time together.” Healthcare professionals can face an increased risk of burnout during their careers(1,2), and a sense of camaraderie on the job can help combat this(3,4). The sooner students can begin building strong peer relationships, seeking each other out for advice and understanding, and trusting their teammates, the better.

    While the concept of building camaraderie may seem daunting when students are not able to actually spend time together in person, it may be more important now than ever. Current circumstances can leave students feeling isolated and lost in the shuffle as the normal methods of team building and peer-to-peer collaboration may not be possible. Below are three ways to foster a sense of community and help students feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

    Methods for Building Camaraderie

    1. Create a Virtual Gathering Place

    Gathering spaces are a crucial part of any college campus. Often, students convene in the space outside a physical classroom before or after class to debrief, compare notes, ask questions, and vent. In a virtual learning environment, students miss this opportunity to bond with their peers and ask questions in a low-pressure environment. If you can, consider providing this space for students in a virtual capacity this year.

    While this may just sound like extra online work, something like a class Facebook Group(5,6,7) could be game-changing for students. This is a private space that the instructor can create and establish rules for, and then encourage students to post questions, random thoughts, jokes, and content related to the course. If the class has teacher assistants (TAs) who can assist with moderation and post discussion prompts or photo challenges, even better.

    2. Break the Ice

    In a typical classroom, there will be moments, often at the beginning of class while students are still settling in, where teachers and students engage in casual chat, unrelated to the topic of the class – these moments can provide a needed break from the intensity of coursework and can help students feel more comfortable with each other and with their instructors.

    On a conference call, students may be reticent to speak up on a topic unrelated to class, and may not even be able to, if the host has muted all participants but the instructor. Educators should try to set aside a few minutes at the beginning of a call to ask students an “ice breaker” question to help the group get to know each other.

    If class is too big for everyone to answer a question verbally, consider, ask students check in early to post to the chat, where people can see and respond to others until class is underway.

    Barrier Screens at Pocket Nurse

    3. Set Up A Buddy System

    If students are attending classes from home, chances are they have not had the chance to meet their peers in any organized setting if they have met them at all. While group projects may be more difficult to manage remotely, pairing students up with at least one person with whom they should “meet” to complete a joint task once a week, or every other week, can help them have regular face time with another student.

    Students can choose their own partners, they can pair up using a compatibility quiz, or choose randomly by picking names over email or with a random generator. Students can even switch their partners throughout the semester so that they can get to know more of their class. Whichever way the class decides to go about it, giving students a regular task to complete with another student can help them feel less isolated and alone.

    In the absence of late-night study groups, informal debriefs in the student center after tests, and pre-class note comparing, students may find it harder than ever to feel that they are “a part of something,” especially in academically taxing healthcare education fields. Remember, when implementing any of the above methods, instructors need to be the example for students. Be the first to share a personal tidbit, ask how students are doing, and share a photo of your dog with a stethoscope around his neck.

    Do you know of another way to build camaraderie in a virtual classroom? Share in the comments below!


    • Burnout and the importance of building camaraderie:





    • Creating a Facebook Group for class:




    • Setting up a buddy system: