Virtual Communities Recap

In yesterday’s Teaching and Learning Center’s session on virtual communities, the group defined community, discussed the challenges present in a virtual environment, and brainstormed strategies for meeting some of these challenges.

Key points from the session:

Community stems from a sense of safety within a class and includes shared goals to foster a connection among students.  It also gains strength from the diversity of its members and requires members to be accountable.

Challenges students and faculty face in an online environment include the impersonal nature of the format as well as the nature of asynchronous communication.  Because students can pop into (and out of) the course at any time, miscommunication can occur.  It can be difficult to convey intention with electronic communications, and discussion posts could be misconstrued.  Because a range of technologies exist in online learning, students (and faculty) may be overwhelmed with the options available to them (as well as the many ways in which each tool can be configured).

Some strategies that may assist faculty in overcoming these challenges include setting expectations such as proper etiquette and demonstrating the advantages of making connections with peers in the online class environment.  Building opportunities for interactive learning, such as requiring peer review, help engage students more deeply.

To see all of ideas generated during the session, visit http://www.dabbleboard.com/draw/sherriplace/community. *Please note: Dabbleboard shut down on August 31, 2012.

With online learning, successful community building efforts require explicit direction and careful planning.  When creating the framework for a course, remember that online students may not be comfortable with the online format or may not be familiar with the technology tools necessary for participating in the learning community.  Students enrolled in an online program have varying reasons for choosing that particular format and may have varied expectations for the experience.  Because online learners are often trying to balance a range of responsibilities, they may not value student-student interactions initially and may participate in a very shallow way.  The asynchronous nature of online learning may also create a sense of isolation, leaving learners less satisfied with their experience.

One of the easiest ways to foster student-student interactions in an online course is to set the stage by providing students with an easy to navigate course that provides all of the tools they need to be successful.  Create a framework for the course that includes expectations for communication and examples of what good communication looks like.  Model for students the types of engagement you’d like to see and provide clear guidelines on how they should contribute to the community.  Instructor participation in discussions not only models appropriate behavior, but also demonstrates presence in the course.  In addition, courses that integrate collaborative activities create an environment where engagement is central to learning, not just an add-on activity.

Interested in sharing ideas for building virtual communities or posing questions about them?  Join Learning Matters to extend the discussion.  Contact Pres Feden for access to this community of practice.

Want to read more about online courses and virtual community?  Take a look at this search in ERIC.

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2 Comments

  1. Sherri, do you mind if I post a link to this page on Posterous? Or you can do it. Let me know either way. Good stuff! Thanks. Pres

  2. Sherri
    Is it possible for you to post a list of research based, best practices techniques for building and maintaining virtual communities in higher education courses? I like the idea of an ERIC search, but it doesn’t yield immediately usable information.

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