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Mason creates Virtual Learning Communities to safely foster community connections

August 7, 2020

Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services

Learning Communities provide Mason students opportunities to connect with peers who share common interests, majors, and identities; engage with faculty inside and outside the classroom; and participate in transformational experiences throughout their time at Mason.

The global pandemic means prioritizing student health and safety through social distancing, which in turn means reduced occupancy for residence halls. With a need to maximize resources to support both new and returning students, challenges were presented to Mason’s Learning Community program.

The Office of Housing and Residence Life leaned into this unique opportunity to provide an enriching learning community experience for students with Virtual Learning Communities. These Virtual Learning Communities (VLC) are designed to foster the same sense of community but in a new and exciting format.

Under tight deadlines, Housing and Residence Life reimagined these learning communities to  maintain some of the core priorities and elements of the experience while providing new flexibility needed to support students in ever-changing times.

More than 21 Virtual Learning Communities represent each school and college and several departments.

“Virtual Learning Communities offer an experience for every undergraduate student, living on or off campus, in Virginia or elsewhere,” said Aysha Puhl, Housing and Residence Life’s associate director of residential student education and engagement. “Whether a student is passionate about being a future educator or studying theater in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, interested in global issues, or a first-generation college student looking to connect with other first-gen students, there’s a community waiting to welcome them into the Mason Nation.”

Students who join a Virtual Learning Community will benefit from a mentor, a linked class with a corresponding faculty member, and Virtual Learning Community-specific enrichment activities.

Mentors are upper-division students passionate about and dedicated to the community’s topic and/or major. They will provide 1:1 support to students through regular check-ins, plan virtual social hangouts to play games or watch movies together, and support student success by connecting students to campus resources and planning study sessions.

Students will participate in either a Virtual Learning Community class or curriculum with other students in their group. Taught by Virtual Learning Community faculty, the classes will allow students to further their learning on a topic of interest, complete a Mason Core or major requirement, and get to know other VLC students. These faculty will also engage with students outside of the classroom, providing mentorship and support.

Students will benefit from an array of opportunities crafted for their community—from virtual tours to discussions with faculty, from game and paint nights to case study competitions.

While the format may be new, the connection to other students, faculty and staff who share the same passions is the core of the learning community experience, whether virtual or in-person.

“Maintaining that sense of community was not just a priority but a central focus in developing Virtual Learning Communities,” Puhl said. “While the fall may look different, Mason remains dedicated to providing a meaningful, impactful and engaging year for students through our campus-wide virtual engagement efforts. These Virtual Learning Communities are one way to achieve this goal.”

To learn more about Mason’s Virtual Learning Communities, visit ofps.gmu.edu/vlc/