Good morning everyone and welcome to the conference session – Alone Yet Together: Building a Virtual Community of Learners. My name is Zoe Brown, Online Learning Project Director with the Shaker Heights school district and I am excited to share with you the latest information about building a sense of community among online learners.
Picture a time when you were seated in a classroom as a student. Many of us remember vivid images of our classroom experiences. More than likely our paradigm of education has been shaped by our experience that may resemble the image of the classroom like the one on the screen. The instructor was the expert who imparted his or her knowledge to us. Now the landscape of education has changed because of the increased use of technology. Many learners are engaged in online learning which comes with its own characteristics that might shake up your paradigm of education.
During the course of this presentation, we will look at one important challenge of online learning – how to prevent isolation of online learners, a viable solution – building a community, and strategies that help address the challenge and implement the solution.
To start this presentation, it might help to define what I mean by online learning.
According to Dabbagh and Bannan-Ritland (2005) online learning “Online learning is an open and distributed learning environment that uses pedagogical tools, enabled by Internet and Web-based technologies, to facilitate learning and knowledge building through meaningful action and interaction.”(p. 15) Please note - the context for this presentation is based on asynchronous computer mediated technologies.
It is comprised of three components that interact to foster meaningful learning and interaction. These are the three components: Pedagogical construct Instructional and learning strategies Learning technologies The pedagogical construct should align with specific instructional strategies which in turn are performed through certain learning technologies (Dabbagh & Bannan-Ritland , 2005). We will revisit this model later because it provides a framework for addressing this challenge.
So here’s the challenge…
Online learners are likely to experience feelings of isolation which is a huge contributor to attrition (Morgan & Tam, 1999).
How can an online learner feel more connected to the group when he or she does not encounter or interact with other learners face to face?
So let’s consider a viable solution…Form and build an online community!
Classroom community is a concept defined and measured by Rovai (2001). It is comprised of two main components – learning and connectedness. Learning “…is the feeling that knowledge and meaning are actively constructed within the community, that the community enhances the acquisition of knowledge and understanding, and that the educational needs of its members are being satisfied” (Rovai, 2001, p. 35). Spirit, trust and interaction form the basis for connectedness. Spirit is the feeling of belonging and group identity. Trust is the feeling that the community can be trusted and will provide constructive feedback. Interaction is linked to the completion of assigned tasks and socio emotional relationships.
Building an online community is significant because it can affect student satisfaction, retention, learning, and lifelong affiliation with an institution and department (Brown, 2001).
When online learners have strong feelings of community, they experience these four points as cited by Rovia (2001).
So what can be done to form and build an online community?
Here is an example of how the three components of online learning can be put into practice and build a sense of community among online learners. Learning communities is a pedagogical construct containing community building elements in which groups of people support each other in their learning agendas, work together on projects, learn from one another as well as from their environment and engage in a collective socio-cultural experience where participation is transformed into a new experience or new learning (Dabbagh, 2005). Instructional strategies to address the characteristics of a learning community might include online discussion, group projects, brainstorming or problem solving activities. These activities can be accomplished through learning technologies like email, bulletin boards, discussion forms, etc.
Now that you have a sense of framework for developing an online community, let’s look at a key player in an online community – the instructor. According to Ritter, Polnick, Fink, and Oescher (2009), establishing a healthy classroom community is the responsibility of all instructors. As the manager, the instructor gets involved with developing the course, establishing timelines, rules, and decision making norms (Ritter, et al., 2009). They provide support and structure to develop social tasks and encourage learners to collaborate and interact with others (Cameron, Morgan, & Williams, 2009). When instructors model, encourage and participate, they help the community form more readily (Brown, 2001).
Here are four ways that an instructor can fulfill his or her roles regarding the forming and building of online communities within the context of asynchronous computer mediated technologies. Activities that encourage learners to make themselves known and establish an identity within the group are important social tasks to accomplish early in the establishment of the community. Opportunities that allow online learners to dialogue, converse, negotiate, support the development of social tasks, an important element of online communities. Group projects “…promote active student engagement are recognized as effective learning strategies” (Carmeron, 2009, p. 21). Using social networks as learning tools emphasizes community and collaboration (Arnold and Paulus, 2010).
On the screen are examples of instructional strategies. Let’s brainstorm other instructional strategies for each of these areas. I will record your ideas on flip chart. Let’s start with identity…what are other ways that we can help learners establish an identity within the group?
Again, because instructors play an important role in developing online communities, they should be reflective of their practices. Here are a few questions that they can ask themselves before they consider attempting to form and build an online community.
We now know how to prevent online learners from feeling isolated by building an online community. There are several considerations that need to be addressed, including
A framework for online learning that promotes community building
The instructors role
And appropriate instructional strategies that support collaboration and community.
Before we close, I would like to know if you have any questions. Feel free to ask them now. Thank your for your participation.
Brown zel5003 -_4
Presented by Zoe Brown Ohio Department of Education Technology in Education Conference August 20, 2011 Alone Yet Together: Building a Sense of Community Online
“ Online learning is an open and distributed learning environment that uses pedagogical tools, enabled by Internet and Web-based technologies, to facilitate learning and knowledge building through meaningful action and interaction.”(p. 15)
Classroom Community Connectedness spirit, trust, interaction Learning
<ul><li>Student satisfaction </li></ul><ul><li>Retention </li></ul><ul><li>Learning </li></ul><ul><li>Lifelong affiliation with institution & department </li></ul>An online community sounds great!
<ul><li>Increases… </li></ul><ul><li>Flow of information </li></ul><ul><li>Availability of support </li></ul><ul><li>Cooperation </li></ul><ul><li>Satisfaction with group efforts </li></ul>They have strong feelings of community
<ul><li>Establishing a healthy classroom community is the responsibility of all instructors. </li></ul>What is my role as the instructor? <ul><li>Manager </li></ul><ul><li>Provider of support & structure </li></ul><ul><li>Promote collaboration & interaction </li></ul><ul><li>Model, encourage & participate </li></ul>
Group Projects Dialogue Identity Social Networks
Group Projects Dialogue Identity Social Networks Allow students to post profile information and pictures of themselves Create structured online discussions and ask meaningful questions Design group projects with assigned roles, focuses on a topic and develops social tasks Use social networks like Ning or Facebook to further emphasize collaboration & community
Questions Instructors Should Ask <ul><li>Am I aware of a community that exists among learners? </li></ul><ul><li>Do I value community or see the importance of community? </li></ul><ul><li>Do I design a learning environment that promotes community building? </li></ul><ul><li>How will the community communicate? </li></ul><ul><li>What tools and applications will I use to foster community? </li></ul>
References <ul><li>Arnold, N. & Paulus, T. (2010). Using a social networking site for experiential learning: Appropriating, lurking, modeling and community building. Internet and Higher Education, 13 , 188-196 . doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2010.04.002. </li></ul><ul><li>Brown, R. (2001). The process of community-building in distance learning classes. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 5 :2, 18-34. </li></ul><ul><li>Cameron, B.A., Morgan, K., & Williams, K.C. (2009). Group projects: Student perceptions of the relationship between social tasks and a sense of community in online group work. The American Journal of Distance Education, 23, 20-33. doi:10.1080/08923640802664466. </li></ul><ul><li>Dabbagh, N. (2005). Pedagogical models for e-learning: A theory-based design framework. International Journal of Technology in Teaching and Learning, 1 (1), 25-44. </li></ul><ul><li>Dabbagh, N., & Bannan-Ritland, B. (2005). Online learning: Concepts, strategies, and application. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education. </li></ul>
References <ul><li>Morgan, C.K., & Tam, M. (1999). Unraveling the complexities of distance education student attrition. Distance Education, 20 (1), 96-108. </li></ul><ul><li>Ritter, C., Polnick, B., Fink, R., & Oescher, J. (2010). Classroom learning communities in educational leadership: A comparison study of three delivery options. Internet and Higher Education, 13 , 96-100. </li></ul><ul><li>doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2009.11.005. </li></ul><ul><li>Rovai, A. (2001). Building classroom community at a distance: A case study. Educational Technology Research and Development, 49 (4), 33-48. </li></ul>
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