Posts tagged ‘Community’

students1There is a great deal of talk about “building community” within online classrooms. What exactly does this mean? Are we trying to teach students how to interact with one another using this specified technology? Perhaps. Is the goal to have them collaborate during the learning process? This certainly can be part of it. But, what exactly is “community”? According to the Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary, community can be defined as the following:

(1) A unified body of individuals as

  • (b) the people with common interest living in a particular area, broadly: the area itself
  • (c) an interactive population of various kinds of individuals in a common location
  • (e) a group linked by a common policy
  • (g) a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scatter through a larger society

An online community created as a classroom for an individual course differs from many other types of online communities in that access is granted for a relatively brief, specified period of time. All participants enter within the same timeframe (at the beginning of the course), and leave when the course is over. There are expectations of full participation from the very beginning, and throughout the entire period of time. Some may take on a more prominent role voluntarily, but opportunities are usually provided for members to take turns in the various types of “leadership” responsibilities. The faculty member functions as the “boundary” (leader) that sustains membership participation and brokers interactions.

Some of the key words or phrases from the “community” definitions that I feel relate to the online classroom communities are:
1. unified body of individuals (focused on learning course content)
2. common interest (the course of study)
3. interactive population (discussion and group activities) and common location (the online classroom)
4. linked by common policy (assignment specifications and course expectations)
5. professional interests (the academic field of study)

Emphasis is placed on the “interactive population”. The online community developed as part of the online classroom functions as a supportive environment with learners engaged in collaboration while sharing ideas and opinions.

Regards, Dr. Jill
Jonnie “Jill” Phipps, Ph.D.
Curriculum Designer

student 26The initial introduction is an important step in building your online community. This will set the tone for communication and shapes the preliminary relationship between you and your students. Of course you will want to provide the “essential” contact information, such as your name, title, phone number(s), and email address, as well as preferred method of communication. You may even provide the time when you are typically online, or specify “online office hours”. Background specifics regarding education and experience will establish your professional profile and expertise in the field of study. You may also want to include a statement regarding your teaching philosophy.

You should also consider including information about hobbies, pets, travel, or even your family. This often provides “common ground” and will help make you seem more “approachable.” Posting a photograph of yourself will provide a tangible image and a sense of connection to a real, “living” person. Candid pictures of you in your office or classroom can also lend a sense of authenticity. If you work from a home office, then post a picture of yourself in your home office. In other words, make it real. Today’s savvy students want to connect and collaborate – with each other and their instructor.

Regards, Dr. Jill
Jonnie “Jill” Phipps, Ph.D.
Curriculum Designer

Student8The first step in building community in your online classroom is to make your students feel comfortable in the online environment. Posting a Welcome message that explains where to start the navigation of this “website” will alleviate much anxiety, especially for first-time online students. Consider a Read Me First or Start Here link.

A brief overview stating the purpose the course provides clarity and focus. Information regarding pre-requite knowledge and minimum technical skills required to be successful in the course will allow the learner to assess their own preparedness. This could include such things as:

  • The ability to add and attachment to a discussion posting.
  • Capable of uploading files to the Dropbox.
  • Experience with creating PowerPoint presentations

Listing the various components within the course will help to provide an understanding how the learning process is structured. For example:

  • All assignments will be submitted via the Dropbox tool.
  • Due dates will be listed in the course Schedule.
  • Participation is required in each weekly Discussion topic, maximum possible points is 5 (see rubric).
  • Chapter quizzes will be available on Fridays after 6:00 pm and must be completed Mondays by 6:00 am.

A “tour” through the various tools that you will be using throughout the semester can also provide practice activities. This allows the learner to gain experience without the threat of affecting their grade in a negative manner.

Consider incorporating these ideas in your next online classroom, whether it is fully online, or simply web-enhanced. I think your students will find the information helpful.

Regards, Dr. Jill
Jonnie “Jill” Phipps, Ph.D.
Curriculum Designer