Archive for June, 2010

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

When creating materials and News items for your online classrooms, consider using images to draw attention to your postings.  A natural “chunking” of information can be achieved with strategic placement of a few key images within lengthy sections of text.
sun Good: A simple piece of clip art or a photo related to the season or holiday will add interest to your announcements and will provide an updated, current feeling to the classroom.  Images of students participating in the learning process can impart a sense of academic community and engagement.  Pictures of the campus will encourage familiarity with various buildings, and can foster a greater sense of belonging.


spanish cafe Better:You can increase the value of adding graphics by having images relate directly to the field of study. For example, a course in Spanish could utilize images from various aspects of Spanish cultures: city streets, homes, market places, etc.  Courses in the College of Nursing could integrate images of medical personnel performing various tasks or using innovative equipment.


Mold aspergillus

Mold aspergillus

Best: The ideal use of images is to enhance the learning process by providing actual examples with a narrative, description, or explanation.  A microbiology course could provide full color enhancements of various bacteria, fungi, protozoans, or viruses.   These electronic images viewed within an online classroom offer greater detail and clarity than those displayed on a screen at the front of a lecture hall and can be used for review by students.


Optimizing Images: Images used for web-viewing do not need to be extremely high resolution, nor should they be.  Cropping and resizing them in PowerPoint or a Word document does not reduce the file size. Images have to be edited in a specialized program (such as Adobe Photoshop), and then placed into the file. For example, an image that is 200 x 150 will cover about one-fourth of your screen.  Images to be used in News posting can be much smaller.

Consider that a 12 megapixel digital camera produces images approximately 4272 x 2848 pixels.  Images used in your course Content should not exceed 1024 x 768 pixels.  In comparison, PowerPoint slides are set to 1000 x 750.  As you can see, there may be a need to optimize many of the images you would like to use.

For free image-editing online, go to

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

The official “Course Offering Name” is displayed in the list of available courses and at the top of the classroom screen for both instructors and students.  By default, this contains the name and section number of the course.  Because the information is imported from PeopleSoft, the name is often truncated or some of the words may be abbreviated.   You can provide clarity by revising this information. Simply click on the Edit Course link in the upper right corner of your online classroom, and then select the top link Course Offering Information.

If you teach the same course for more than one semester, I also recommend that you include semester information at the end of the title. This allows you to confirm with a glance that you are in the correct classroom when adding or editing materials.  Trust me, it is easy, with today’s multi-tasking life style, to click on the classroom title to update materials and not realize it isn’t the current semester.   If you include the semester name at the end of your course names, it will always be displayed at the top of your screen when you are adding new files, editing News items, or updating assessments.


Once you make the desired changes, click the Save button.  The changes will take place, but will not display until you refresh the screen or re-enter the classroom.

Regards,  Dr. Jill

Jonnie “Jill” Phipps, Ph.D.

Curriculum Designer

newsThe News tool is an effective way to communicate the most current information for any course delivery style: online, web-enhanced, or traditional face-to-face. The News tool is a widget that is usually in the middle of the course home page. This prominent location makes it ideal to post updates. These could include the following types of information:

• Welcome message and instructions on how to get started
• Weekly agendas, outlines, assignments, or activities
• Quick links to content, discussion forums, quizzes, survey, etc.
• Web addresses related to course materials and/or current events
• Images enhancing assigned readings
• Changes in course schedule (reading assignments, test dates, etc.)
• Announcements about class cancellation (snow day, illness, etc.)

The News tool is very user friendly, and the date/time release feature allows you to determine when, and for how long, you would like each message to be displayed. This also makes it easy to reuse many of the posting from one semester to the next, simply revising pertinent information.

For information on the “how to” of creating News postings, click here.

What are some of the creative ways you use the News tool in your classes?  Share your great ideas with your colleagues by submitting your comments on this post link below .

Regards,  Dr. Jill

Jonnie “Jill” Phipps, Ph.D.

Curriculum Designer