Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Building Community In An Online Course

Picture of a student covering his face with a poster of hand-drawn sad face.It’s easy to feel alone in an online course, especially if you do not already have a personal relationship with the teacher or other students. Multiple studies have shown that online learners are at greater risk of feeling socially isolated (Lewis & Abdul-Hamid, 2006); thus it is important for teachers facilitating blended or online courses to consider ways to build relationships.Given the importance of feeling connected and valuing the role relationships play in learning, teachers of online courses must work to establish a community within their online classes.

What follows are 4 ways in which teachers can build community within their Moodle classrooms.

1. Get To Know One Another

Many online courses begin with an introductory activity wherein students describe themselves to the class. In most cases, generic biographies are posted by everyone, and these entries may or may not be read by others. Instead of this once and done method for introducing oneself, consider including a relationship-building activity during each week of instruction. Consider setting up a specific place, such as a dedicated Topic within your Moodle course, for these types of discussions. The bottom line is that meaningful opportunities for communication must be included within our online classrooms (Dixson, 2010).

These activities don’t need to be difficult or time consuming; they just need to encourage discussion and interaction between students. For added effectiveness, make connections between what you learn about a given student through these activities and what is being studied in the class.

2. Don’t ask questions that have a single correct answer.

It happens all of the time. The teacher asks a question that has a single answer. For example: What is the main idea of chapter 2? While there is nothing wrong with this type of question, it doesn’t necessarily spark conversation. Instead consider asking students to interact with the information in a different way.

How do the ideas presented within Chapter 2 affect you?
Select a single sentence or phrase from Chapter 2 that you feel expressed an important idea or theme and describe your rationale for selection.

The types of responses generated by these kind of open-ended questions make it easier for students to continue the conversation through follow-up responses.

3. Incorporate student voice… Literally.
There are multiple tools that allow students to be heard. Consider taking advantage of tools such as Flipgrid or Voxer that allow students to actually share responses orally. Hearing a classmate’s voice is just another way to build connections and reminds us that we are in fact real people with individual voices.

4. Feedback, Feedback, Feedback
Feedback is information provided by an individual regarding aspects of one’s performance or understanding (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). Although feedback can come from a variety of sources, let’s focus on feedback obtained from peers, teachers, and students. As a teacher, it is critical that we provide effective, ongoing feedback to our students. We should also encourage students to provide feedback to their classmates. Keep in mind, however that providing quality feedback is a skill and our students will need guidance as they develop and grow this skill.

There is much evidence to prove the impact of targeted, timely feedback -especially as it relates to student learning, but teachers need to seek feedback, as well. Students have a unique perspective that an instructor (no matter how qualified) simply cannot have. Throughout the course, teachers should seek out student opinions and ideas for building community and improving the overall course experience.

Although establishing a true community of learners who value and support one another takes a lot of work, it is worth the time and energy. Creating opportunities for students to communicate and connect with one another can increase engagement and build a community, despite the lack of physical interaction (Dixson, 2015)


Dixson, Marcia D. “Creating Effective Student Engagement in Online Courses: What Do Students Find Engaging?” Journal of teh Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, vol. 10, no. 2, 2010.
Dixson, Marcia D. “Measuring Student Engagement in the Online Course: The Online Student Engagement Scale (OSE).” Online Learning, vol. 19, no. 4, 2015.
Hattie, John, and Helen Timperley. “The Power of Feedback.” Review of Educational Research, vol. 77, no. 1, 2007, pp. 81–112.
Lewis, C.C. and Abdul-Hamid, H. (2006). Implementing Effective Online Teaching Practices: Voices of Exemplary Faculty. Innovative Higher Education, 31, 2, 83-98..

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