Practice Module for PD: Online Teaching and Learning: Establishing Community in Online Courses
In this course, we will focus on trends in higher education, and on strategies and informed practices to increase student engagement through community building.
Online education is a rapidly growing trend. In fact, according to a survey of institutions of higher education conducted annually by the Babson Survey Research Group, though overall enrollment rates have declined, the number of students enrolling in online courses continues to increase significantly each year. That number increased by more than 200,000 from the previous year. Though the numbers of students enrolling in online education continues to grow, student success in online courses does not always compare to that of their counterparts in face-to-face courses. So what can we do to ensure that our online students attain the same levels of success as those in face-to-face courses?
We know that learning is a social experience. It's not all about what a student can read in a textbook. Nor is it all about information that an instructor can impart through a lecture. Students gain knowledge from the instructor, from the course content, and from other students.
Interaction with instructor and peers helps students experience differing opinions and perspectives, and helps to develop soft skills that can be transferred into other areas of the learners' lives.
So how do we keep our online students engaged, learning and interacting to maximize their learning potential? In this course, we will focus on tools, activities, and strategies that will help us develop more effective learning communities in the online environment.
This module focuses on some of the recent trends and statistics that are available to highlight the importance of community-building for online learners.
A Sense of Presence
Here are my instructor notes!
Hello? ... Is anybody out there?
Think about some online course experiences you've had as a learner/participant. I know that you have all been teaching online courses for a while, but think about some that you have taken. Have you ever had one in which you did not have opportunity to interact with the instructor... or other students... or even content? I have. And as a student, that can be pretty frustrating. Imagine our novice students in an environment where they don't know where to go or what to do. They'd be left wondering:
- "What should I be doing?"
- "Where is my instructor?"
- "Where is ANYBODY?"
- "I must've done something wrong... What did I do to get here?"
Most learners have a need for social interactions that facilitate learning. As an instructor, you have the responsibility of helping your learners feel secure about their learning environment, so that do not feel isolated, and so that they are more comfortable and ready to learn.
Establishing a sense of presence in the online environment is critical to helping your students feel connected. Instructor presence throughout the online learning environment offers students the feeling of being there in the classroom, with the instructor and being together with other learners. But how do you do that as an instructor? Following the criteria established through QC2 (Odessa College's faculty course, Quality Course Components) is a great start. Here are a few examples that are discussed in QC2.
- Providing students easy to follow navigation instructions so that they know what to click on and how to get started helps them to feel more comfortable and confident inside the course.
- Easy to find information about the instructor (such as a "Faculty Information" link from the navigation panel) can provide students with phone numbers and email addresses for their instructor, but also can provide a brief bio of the instructor to help them get a sense of their instructor's personality, an overview of what they can expect from their instructor, and perhaps even a picture or video so that the learners can put a face (and voice!) with the name. All of this information help the learners to see that their instructor is a living, breathing person, and that they have someone with whom they can connect.
- Providing a welcome announcement and a welcome video is another way to help students feel more comfortable when they're getting started. But also sending an email to the students before the class begins can help to start establishing that sense of presence even before the course opens.
- Detailed grade feedback helps your students really sense that the instructor is there... and that the instructor cares.