In March 2020, social media and chat forums became the norm for higher education students looking to communicate with one another. That still holds true ten months later. College students aren’t necessarily satisfied with the current sense of community—or lack thereof—experienced online: 75 percent miss face-to-face interactions with faculty and their peers during class.1

Here are five collaboration and study apps to help students form meaningful connections, share coursework and job opportunities and, ultimately, strengthen student-student bonds.

1. Discord

Discord is an instant messaging app that allows students to form group chats for audio, text and media sharing. Originally designed for gamers, Discord offers different servers, all of which have their own topics, rules and channels. Text channels enable students to send instant text messages to one another. Voice channels allow learners to send audio notes to individuals or groups. Not all students want to be on camera nor are they able to meet at a set time. Discord allows for asynchronous conversations that still make students feel part of a learning community. Students will appreciate being able to discuss assignments informally and share their progress through photos of their STEM formulas, for example, or describing how they arrived at an answer by sending a voice note to their peers.

2. Slack

Widely used in the corporate world, Slack enables students to stay in touch with their peers in and out of class. Students can create their own channels for a variety of purposes such as for group projects, sharing pet photos, note-taking and distribution and even memes. Slack also offers integrations with time management tools, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Evernote, Dropbox, Zoom and more. Students are able to share files and see one another through in-app calls, replicating the feeling of an in-person conversation. Slack allows for communication with educators, but additionally gives students the autonomy to form private groups for informal, non-academic activities including extracurriculars.

3. Goodwall

In the job market, it’s often not what you know, but who you know. That couldn’t be more true in today’s economy. Many campus jobs and co-op opportunities have been reduced due to cutbacks. Goodwall takes a social, more informal approach to the standard CV. Be sure to alert your students to this free app that allows them to connect on shared challenges, pitch their business ideas and discover internship and scholarship opportunities. Users are able to network with their peers from their institution and beyond. 

4. Padlet

Not everyone can commit to synchronous classes. Similarly, not everyone feels comfortable raising their voice in front of the entire group. Padlet serves as an online Post-It board, allowing students to create flashcards or individual notes in discussion boards. Post a question on your board. You could ask students what their ‘muddiest point’ of your lecture was at the end of class, or get students to share an interesting article they read in the past week that relates to your course material. Students can additionally create their own boards for a variety of purposes, like celebrating birthdays in friend groups or crowdsourcing ideas on an upcoming biology experiment. Even though students aren’t together, these boards can help replicate spontaneous back-and-forth conversations held in class.

5. Top Hat Community

Top Hat helps your students stay connected with one another during and after class. Students are given a single destination to chat, engage in video discussions, collaborate on assignments and have fun. Dedicated channels are automatically created for every class you teach and populated with the students in that class, making it easy for you to connect with your class as a whole or with learners individually. Students can create their own private channels dedicated to study groups, tutoring services, or even virtual sporting events. Students are able to share their class schedules, podcasts, mind maps, Google Docs and multimedia with one another. Community is available for free in the App Store and can be downloaded on iOS and Android mobile devices. 

James Foley, Assistant Director of Digital Learning & Design at Brown University, found Top Hat to be the perfect institution-wide tool for student engagement. Not only were students able to asynchronously engage with one another, they were able to foster a greater sense of belonging. Foley calls Top Hat Community “a game changer for residential and campus life.”


  1. Top Hat (2020). Top Hat Field Report: Higher Ed Students Grade the Fall 2020 Semester.
How do apps help college students build community?

The above apps for college students enable campus, and even community-wide, communications. Students are able to engage in both synchronous and asynchronous discussions from anywhere in the world. For example, custom discussion channels and audio-sharing capabilities of many apps allow students to replicate informal interactions previously held on campus. A number of video-conferencing platforms, such as Skype or Zoom, help strengthen peer community by letting students see one another in and out of class. Some community apps also offer free versions along with premium plans.

What browsers and devices are community apps compatible with?

Most community apps, including the ones above, can be accessed through a web browser on Apple or Microsoft devices. Students can download these apps in the App Store and access them on their Mac, iPad, iPhone or Android mobile devices. Specifically, students can download the Top Hat mobile app on iOS (version 6.0.0 or later) or Android (version 6.0.3 or later). Students can access the app with a stable Wi-Fi connection.

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