February 9, 2024

Nomie, a Tool that Facilitates the Creation of Connections Between Students, in an Inclusive and Fun Way

I hate having to say this sentence: “Could you remind me of your name, please?”

Or even worse: “You with the blue sweater at the back of the class, what do you think?”

Yet, despite my reluctance, not so long ago, I found myself repeating these sentences quite often.

The fact that I couldn’t call students by their names made me uncomfortable. It stopped me from properly supporting them in their learning. That’s why, one day, I decided that I was going to learn the names of all my students. In doing so, I also became interested in the educational relationship.

The educational relationship

The educational relationship is the relationship between the teacher and the student. Postic (2001, p.8)[PDF, in French] explains that the educational relationship is the set of relationships that are established between the educator and those they educate, in order to pursue educational objectives within a given institutional structure. These relationships possess identifiable cognitive and affective characteristics, have a progression and a history.

Is the educational relationship important?

Is it important to create connections? It’s not easy because we have a large number of students, we have little information about them, we often see them only for one session and 15 weeks go by quickly… Why bother trying to get to know our students? The students are there for our courses, not for us, right? Shouldn’t we just aim to offer good courses?

Nonetheless, several researchers confirm the importance of the educational relationship. For example, Chassé (2006, p. 30) [PDF, in French] writes that for many students, all opportunities for educational relationships are important, even crucial. They have a real need for this human consideration. Chassé also mentions the consensus established in education about the impact of the quality of the relationship between teachers and students on the affective and cognitive development of the latter.

Buskist, Busler, and Kirby, in a 2018 article on student engagement in higher education, mention that developing a connection with students is one of the most valuable investments teachers can make to improve the quality of their courses.

In the context of a focus group organized in Spring 2024, I asked 7 students at my college if it was important for them to create connections with their teachers. In their responses, the students did not limit themselves to talking about the teacher-student relationship, but also spontaneously included peer relationships. The responses surprised and deeply moved me. I share with you some of these answers [translated from French into English]:

  • “Creating connections makes one feel good about oneself.”
  • “If a teacher doesn’t know my name, it’s like I’m an object in their eyes. I want to be a student in the class, not just a ‘Hey you.’”
  • “Teachers are our second family.”
  • “For me, it’s difficult to approach people.”
  • “If a teacher knows my name, I will be more motivated to make an effort to succeed.”
  • “I feel very much alone, and I don’t know how to make friends.”
  • “Because of the pandemic and social media, we no longer know how to connect with others.”

This loneliness revealed in the answers of the respondents is unfortunately experienced by too many students. Data from Statistics Canada tell us that in 2021, nearly 1 in 4 people aged 15 to 24 reported feeling always or often alone. Furthermore, those who feel lonely report poorer mental health and a lower degree of general life satisfaction.

Illustrations montrant plusieurs versions d’une personne seule à l’air déçu qui tient un cellulaire ou une tablette. Les différents personnages semblent être réparties au travers des éclats d’un miroir. Source de l’image: Midjourney.

Image source: Midjourney.

This loneliness even has an effect on physical health, as it can increase the risks of heart disease, stroke, and premature death. A recent study by Laugesen, K., Baggesen, L.M., Schmidt, S.A.J., et al. (2018) revealed that being socially isolated was associated with a 60 to 70% increase in the risk of death over a 7-year period.

Okay, I’m convinced. It’s worth it! But how do I get to know my students? And how can I help them get to know one another? Here again, research provides us with insight.

Buskist, Busler, and Kirby (2018) mentioned important values that should be present to establish an educational relationship:

  • respect
  • trust
  • harmony
Buskit, Busler and Kirby (2018) for developing the educational relationship
  • Call students by their first name.
  • Make eye contact with as many students as you can during class.
  • Be friendly, encouraging, respectful, and supportive.
  • Learn about your students’ interests.
  • Take time to chat with students before and after class.
  • Create and use relevant examples that “speak” to students.
  • Post and respect office hours.
  • Respond to e-mails promptly and courteously.
  • Reward student comments and questions with verbal feedback such as “thank you,” “good point,” and “great question.”
  • Acknowledge student achievements and express care and concern for struggling students.
  • Be humble and, when appropriate, self-deprecating.
  • Smile—students will see that you appreciate them and your job!

Fostering the creation of connections

Over the past few years, my passion for the subject led me to learn a lot about the educational relationship and the creation of connections. Here are some key elements that I believe are crucial to consider if you want to foster creating connections among your students.

Common Ground

You are passionate about knitting and discover that one of your colleagues has just finished knitting a scarf. There, you have something in common with this person and you take the opportunity to start a conversation about your shared passion. This person already seems likable to you. The saying goes well: “Birds of a feather flock together.”

Psychologist Robin Dunbar has identified what he calls the “Seven Pillars of Friendship”:

  • sharing the same language or dialect
  • having the same educational trajectory
  • growing up in the same location
  • sharing hobbies and interests
  • sharing moral, political, and religious views
  • sharing musical tastes
  • sharing a sense of humour

Robin Dunbar mentions that the more elements of these pillars we have in common, the stronger our friendship is.

Gradual development of relationships: we get to know a person little by little

The first time you meet your neighbour, usually, you don’t tell them your entire life story, right? Maybe a very superficial conversation about the weather… Then, little by little, over the course of encounters, you talk more, and eventually, you may develop a friendship.

This friendship will have developed gradually.

This process is compared to peeling an onion, where each revealed layer brings individuals closer together. In psychology, this is referred to as Social Penetration Theory (SPT) [PDF] by Altman and Taylor (1973). According to these researchers, communication is an important factor in the development of interpersonal relationships. SPT focuses on self-disclosure as the main mode of relationship development. Self-disclosure involves the intentional revelation of information about oneself to another person through verbal communication. Thus, as individuals share more information about themselves, their relationship develops further.

The limit of the number of people one can get to know in a short period of time

Have you ever participated in a speed dating activity? One of those evenings where you meet a different person every 5 minutes? After 2 hours, you would have met over 20 people. Once the activity is over, how many people do you remember? Probably very few…

Before exploring the creation of connections, I used to start my classes with icebreaker activities, involving all the students in the class at the same time, in one large group. For example, I would ask each student to share their name and favourite hobby or answer a similar question. These activities, although time-consuming, aimed to foster interaction to eventually learn the name and at least one piece of information about each person. However, during group interviews, students confessed their aversion to these exercises. They could not remember the names, were too focused on the approach of their turn to speak and found this activity simply boring and anxiety-inducing.

Now, for icebreaker activities, I form teams of at least 3 people. This promotes a more natural conversation, especially if one of the participants is shyer. I limit the groups to a maximum of 7 people, so that each person can have the opportunity to speak and fully participate in the group dynamics.

Laughter, a powerful driver for new encounters

A serious icebreaker activity can be interesting. But if you want to truly impact the creation of connections among participants, make them laugh!

According to Gray, Parkinson, and Dunbar (2015) [PDF], laughter can significantly influence the level of intimacy in self-disclosure among individuals. Their study suggests that laughter not only builds relationships but also increases people’s willingness to disclose personal information, even when they are not aware of it.

How does personality influence the way we create connections?

Due to their personality, some people find it easier than others to create relationships and are more comfortable in groups. For example, extroverted people are known to find it easier to start conversations while introverts are generally recognized for their great listening skills.

However, the results of a recent study by Card and Skakoon-Sparling (2023) contradict the commonly accepted idea that more introverted people are somehow less vulnerable to loneliness. Depending on the personality type, people tend to create relationships differently, but the need for relationships is important for everyone.

Nomie: a solution to facilitate the creation of connections, in an inclusive and fun way

Following my research on educational relationships, since 2020, I have been working designing a tool to assist teachers who wish to facilitate the creation of connections among students. I am very fortunate not to be alone in this adventure: I am supported by associates and numerous organizations from the Quebec entrepreneurial ecosystem. Thus, in August 2023, the commercialization of the Nomie web application began, and 5 daring teachers from various colleges are now using this tool with their classes. Lots of laughter and beautiful connections have ensued!

Nomie Logo

But concretely, what is Nomie? Nomie is a paid web application that allows for the creation of meaningful connections between students and teachers in a fun and inclusive way. Teachers create virtual classes and invite students to join. Students answer fun questions that automatically generate an introduction card, thus facilitating mutual discovery. Icebreakers and activities deployed in real time foster mutual knowledge and create a positive learning environment.

Screenshot of a student’s introduction card on Nomie. Before the first day of class, students receive an invitation to create their own introduction card by filling out a fun and inclusive questionnaire. Then, students can view the introduction cards of their group even before the first day of class, which can greatly reduce their anxiety.

Screenshot of the Dream Journey game, available on Nomie. In this game, each player earns a “trip” with certain conditions. Players choose a country on an interactive map individually, and then everyone’s choices are revealed. Nomie then forms teams of 3 to 5 people based on the selected countries. Team members discuss their country choices and answer questions from Nomie. All Nomie games have been validated: they are inclusive, fun, stimulate conversation, value differences, and can be played in class, in real time.

The benefits of creating connections are numerous.

Benefits of creating connections— Braeur, 2011 [PDF, in French]
For the Teacher For the Student
  • Less stressed than when teaching an anonymous mass of students
  • Gets attention more easily
  • Less chatter
  • Less lateness
  • Fewer excuses in the submission of assignments
  • Easier organization of active educational activities

Simplified classroom management

  • Feels less anonymous within the class group
  • Greater attendance
  • More effort in tasks
  • More participation in class (asks more questions, responds more easily)
  • Is invested more in activities proposed by the teacher

Nomie is only just making its entry into CEGEP classrooms. This tool is constantly improved through feedback from its users: the teaching and student community. In 2024, I aim to measure the impact of Nomie on academic perseverance with the support of researchers.

I myself use Nomie in my classes in Business Administration, and it really helps me make connections. To start a conversation, I can refer to elements from the introduction cards that students fill out on Nomie. For example, Manuel wrote about being proud of a YouTube video he published that got a lot of views. We had a discussion about this video. I even learned that Manuel is globally recognized for his gaming skills!

When I see very introverted people exchanging and laughing with their new classmates, something they usually don’t dare to do without this little boost facilitated by Nomie’s games, it fills me with joy!

Illustrations montrant 4 personnages qui sautent de joie. Source de l’image: Midjourney.

Image source: Midjourney

When I call students by their first name, it’s not uncommon to see their faces light up. A small difference that makes all the difference. And when I see friendships forming or hear students laughing together, then it’s my face that lights up.

Having created a relationship with my students, I no longer say, “You, in the back of the class with the blue sweater, what do you think?” but rather “You, Abderrahmane, what do you think?”

About the author

Sonia Hudon

Sonia Hudon has been teaching Business Administration at Collège de Rosemont for 10 years. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, a graduate diploma in E-Commerce, and a Master’s degree in College Teaching. Her passion for technology and pedagogy led her to co-found Nomie.