Stories Through Research Wrap-Up: Digital Community and Connectedness Project

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In our third session of Stories Through Research, the Digital Community and Connectedness team shared their findings on building digital connection in uncertainty, and what students need in online communities. From our interviews with students during these uncertain times, we were able to uncover important student needs that can support everyone in digital communities – no matter the platform.  

What We Learned: 

Successful digital communities act as secure anchors for students, grounding them in meaningful engagement and giving them hope to continue through the struggles of the pandemic.  

When community leaders and designers ensure students feel secure in their digital communities, they give students hope and possibilities for meaningful engagement. Community builders can secure students in multiple ways: by creating open spaces that are attentive to intimacy and vulnerability; by developing and reasserting a shared community experience and history; and by fostering student-centric and student/participant-led community online spaces. We found this key finding in three themes:  


1) Power of Vulnerability: Students share that genuine connection comes with vulnerability, through which they feel authentic. When they feel authentic, they feel connected with the fellow students and community with which they share online time. 

2) Sharing is Caring: Students pursue community and connect when there is something shared, such as interests or experiences. When there is this shared and common ground, they can feel connected and continue their engagement.   

3) Empowering Student Voices: Students are frustrated with the breakdown of their personal boundaries, stemming from scheduling difficulties, the complexities of many options to engage with community, and feeling overwhelmed. When the students are empowered to seek what they want and say no, they feel their needs are being met.   

As we continue to move forward in changing times, our goal is for these insights to empower community builders at UofT to foster meaningful online communities. We have also provided a set of design principles to begin building impactful online communities, or to consider incorporating new elements into existing digital spaces.  

You are also welcome to explore our Delving into the Digital Campus blog series by subscribing to our blog. The first post of the series can be found here: 

Last-minute registration is still available for our remaining Stories Through Research sessions! Register below:

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