Using Virtual Gallery Walks to Build Community in Online Classes

Charity Butcher, Professor of Political Science, Kennesaw State University

Building community within the classroom is always important for enhanced student learning. It helps students feel more comfortable expressing themselves and sharing their views and it encourages students to reach out with their questions. We all use a variety of techniques to help bring our students together and build a sense of community in our face-to-face classes, but building community in online courses, particularly those that are asynchronous, can be more challenging. Danielle Hanley provides some advice on building community in online courses. Rebecca A. Glazier discusses communicating to build rapport with online students. Eric Loepp provides a self-reflection document for professors to ensure that their classes have a “human touch” – an important element for building community. Here, I discuss how gallery walks can be used in asynchronous online courses to help build community.

Gallery walks are an active learning strategy that allow students to “walk” around a space and consider images, text, documents, or other students’ work to create a more interactive and less static learning environment. In a face-to-face course, a gallery walk gets students out of their chairs and promotes more active engagement with course and student materials. While gallery walks are often used in face-to-face classes, virtual gallery walks can provide an opportunity for students to interact with each other and become more engaged in their online courses, even if these courses are asynchronous.

A virtual gallery walk can take a variety of forms.

Professors could post course content and have students move from piece to piece and provide comments and reactions. Another, more engaging way, to use a gallery walk is to have students post their own work and then have other students in the course preview and comment on this work. Certain course assignments are particularly conducive to gallery walks – including memes, blogs, infographics, press releases, photography, elevator pitches, three-minute theses, op-eds, etc. Such creative assignments are likely to spark student interest and encourage students to engage with the content and each other more fully.

One potential hurdle to a virtual gallery walk is technology. While a gallery walk can certainly be created within your learning management system, using the discussion board function for example, there are other technologies that are more interactive that might be a better choice.

VoiceThread (VoiceThread.com) is a good option for hosting a virtual gallery walk. Professors can set up a VoiceThread for an assignment – such as a meme assignment – and then have students post their memes to the VoiceThread. VoiceThread allows students to respond to posts in a thread by writing a comment, recording an audio comment, or recording a video. By providing a variety of outlets for students to comment on posts, students can use the format that works best for them.

Below is a screenshot of a sample VoiceThread (with Syllabus memes). You can see the meme and the comment left by one of the participants. The comment bubble with a “+” symbol (at the bottom of the meme) is where students would click to add a comment. While students can certainly type comments (like in the example), I would suggest encouraging them to post video or audio comments if they feel comfortable and are able to do so. This will help add additional connections between students beyond merely text. Of course, text is also available to increase accessibility for students.

Overall, a gallery walk can help provide additional connections between students and the professor. By having students share their work and provide feedback to each other, you can create a greater sense of community within your classrooms, something that is particularly important in online courses.


Charity Butcher (@CharityButcher) is a Professor of Political Science at Kennesaw State University. She teaches undergraduate courses in international relations, American foreign policy, and international security and teaches in the International Policy Management Master’s program and the International Conflict Management PhD program at KSU. She advises KSU’s Model United Nations team and hosts a Model United Nations conference each year for High School students. Her research focuses on human rights, civil war, terrorism, democratization, and ethnicity and religion. In addition, she conducts research on the scholarship of teaching and learning, particularly focusing on the use of simulations and other active learning strategies, and she has been a guest contributor to the Active Learning in Political Science Blog.

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