Online Learning Communities.
Drs. Pratt and Palloff (Laureate Education, 2010), outline the essential elements of online community building as people, purpose, process, method, and social presence. Of these, I believe that social presence presents not only the most challenges, but also the most opportunities for creating effective online instruction.
|A student, alone.|
Online learning communities increase student satisfaction and success through the lessening of isolation (Laureate Education) as well as through the building of a social presence. In my own experiences as an online learner, the overwhelming sense of isolation was a major factor in my mental health as a student. When I was discouraged by my progress, I felt there was no one to whom I could speak who would understand. It is unfortunate that in many of my courses, interaction with other students was discouraged. Not actively or explicitly discouraged, but subtly by the hiding of rosters, the lack of discussion, and the emphasis that collaboration could be construed as cheating.
|A student, isolated.|
The maintenance of an online learning community will not be accomplished by the set and forget method of online instruction
(Conrad & Donaldson, 2011). One cannot merely turn on access to a course
shell leaving the auto grader to do the work.
Dr. Palloff (Laureate Education discusses
that community cannot be built without first setting a welcoming tone. Learners entering into an online course need
to be aware of the instructor’s presence and humanity. Dr. Pratt (Laureate
Education) emphasizes the need for an instructor to be in the online environment
daily for the first two weeks. This is a
critical time where students may feel overwhelmed and stop participating.
|A part of a learning community.|
In my own practice, I am met with resistance from other instructors who do not think that content that is based in scientific fact and physics cannot support a community idea. I am not sure if this entirely true or more of a reluctance to move away from the set and forget method. It takes work to maintain any community, and an online learning community is not any different. Social presence, as mentioned earlier, presents challenges and opportunities. It requires a facilitator who is knowledgeable and engaged. Without the full engagement and skilled social presence of the facilitator, it is doubtful the learners will become engaged and develop their own social presences.
Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survial guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction. San Franscisco: Jossey-Bass.
Laureate Education (Producer). (2010). Online learning communities [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.walden.edu
Attributions: all images via Wiki Commons, alt-text includes attributions.