Resources: Building a Community that Extends Care and Compassion During Times of Uncertainty

Adrian LEE and Kiruthika RAGUPATHI
Centre for the Development of Teaching and Learning (CDTL)

In a survey sent out by CDTL, NUS colleagues were asked about their experiences teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic, their intentions for the upcoming semester, and share their teaching hacks. Adrian and Kiru share these teaching hacks in two parts: (1) Building a community that extends care and compassion; and (2) Designing to engage. This is the first post of the two-part blog series.

Image courtesy of Beci Harmony from Unsplash.

With the transition to remote teaching, most of us focused on using online technologies to replicate the learning experience for students. On reflection, many of us recognise that in the rush to keep our students academically on track, we did not give as much attention to the loss of community and socialisation that arose due to the isolating effects of the current situation. Many of the teaching hacks shared in the survey recommended a focus on softening these effects by arguing for a stronger teacher presence, engaged learning communities, contact time between teacher and students, and for students to work and learn from one another.

In this post, we share suggestions and ideas from our colleagues on building a community that extends care and compassion.

The loss of connectedness to students was keenly felt by many colleagues, and it was also evident that many students were facing challenging personal circumstances. Some students had lost jobs upon which they were relying. Others had additional responsibilities now within the home. Many did not have the space to study effectively or access to secure and stable internet connections.

Part of building community requires learning the circumstances in which students find themselves. This can be achieved with through:

administering a “get-to-know-your-students” survey prior to the start of the semester
giving students the opportunity to introduce themselves to one another
having friendly informal conversations to help pierce the isolation and to build a supportive learning environment, prior to the start of each session

A common issue was the reluctance of students to turn on their webcams. Colleagues recognised the importance of respecting students’ privacy, but the lack of a visual presence was a significant barrier to teaching.

Image courtesy of Chris Montgomery from Unsplash.


To help build community and an inclusive learning environment, colleagues suggested the following:

using technologies embedded in the video conferencing applications, such as virtual backgrounds, that allow students to maintain their privacy while achieving the humanising effect of having a visual student presence
accepting (instead of being irritated with) students’ answering of questions through the chat function rather than verbally using a microphone
encouraging students to make use of the chat function as students appeared more comfortable engaging in this format
taking note of students who appear distressed or disengaged, and to arrange for one-to-one meetings to help with any concerns these students are facing, and to bring them into the community as an active participant
using the name feature on the platform, where students are encouraged to rename themselves with the names with which they prefer to be addressed
looking directly at the camera to help maintain eye contact even though many students might not have their webcams turned on

In a time of crisis, these suggestions help sustain a learning community by humanising the online learning experience. Beyond ensuring that our students receive an academically vibrant education, we need more than ever to extend care and compassion.

Additional Resource

NUS Quick Guide to Online Teaching: Teaching online with Zoom or Microsoft Teams (2020, Mar 23). Wiki.nus.


Adrian LEE is Deputy Director (Professional Development) at CDTL, as well as a faculty member of the Department of Chemistry. His interests in education are wide-ranging and include technology-enhanced learning, especially blended learning, interdisciplinary education, and student living-learning experiences. In academic development, Adrian looks to build programmes within a collegial culture and furthering conversations that support reflective practice.

Adrian can be reached at

Kiruthika RAGUPATHI is Associate Director at CDTL and co-leads professional development programmes and oversees the centralised teaching quality instruments at NUS—student feedback and peer review. Her research work focuses on assessment, student living-learning experiences, academic development, and technology-enhanced learning.

Kiruthika can be reached at


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