In online classes, establishing a learning community takes a lot of work! There are no visual cues as to how people perceive things. There is no first day small talk to establish relationships among students and the instructor. Instead, activities are used to encourage student communication to create a learning community. To help establish a supportive community many classes begin with some kind of ice-breaker, such as a discussion, to allow the students to introduce themselves and talk with other students and the instructor. Another activity that can be employed to help students feel more comfortable with the instructor at the beginning of the course is a pre-course survey. In the survey the instructor can gather important information about the students in the class that will help guide instruction, but when creating the questions the instructor can insert comments about themselves as well. Establishing a relationship with the students early on will encourage them to seek feedback from the instructor when they are having problems. This may also enhance retention rates if the students know they can discuss problems with the instructor.
Below you will find my pre-course survey for a community college introductory biology course.