**Objective: Decide how you will “build community” in your online courses.**
Lecture is not the primary teaching strategy online because it leads to learner isolation and attrition. The most important role of the online instructor is to ensure a high level of interaction and participation (Conrad & Donaldson, 2004). This can be accomplished with greater learner-learner interaction and a more reflective learning style. Learners need to be active to create a true online learning environment.
Learners interacting with their peers is important in the learning process. The most successful online teachers encourage learners to be open, reflective and candid. This is done by creating an online environment where students can think critically together by challenging each other’s assumptions and opinions, as they struggle together with the content and build a sense of community.
To help learners connect with each other, the best online teachers use meaningful examples, stimulating assignments, and thought-provoking questions. They get learners to connect with the course content, its teacher, and each other. They connect learners to each other by engaging in reflective thinking, collaborative learning, and knowledge construction to contextualize real-world experiences (Nackerud & Scaletta, 2008). Bain (2004) asserts that the best college teachers foster engagement through effective student interactions with faculty, peers, and content.
Steve Wheeler, in his blog Learning with e’s, describes interaction as the keystone of contemporary education. Increased interaction with peers and teachers is critical in every online course. Interaction reduces feelings of isolation and improves the learning experience. Students benefit from interaction when they are immersed in conversation, practices, beliefs and values. In a 1989 editorial piece in the American Journal of Distance Education theorist Michael G. Moore, outlined three levels of interaction.
1. The first, is learner-teacher interaction. Social media, and other forms of digital communication, have opened new ways for the learner and teacher to connect through meaningful online interactions. The teacher (or subject-matter expert) stimulates learners interest/motivation, presents, demonstrates, guides learners’ application of what is being learned, evaluates learners’ progress, and supports/encourages the learners.
2. The second type of interaction is learner-content. Learner-content interaction is when the learner interacts with the contents of the course. The online learner is isolated and by him/herself and learning is mainly self-directed.
3. The third type of interaction is learner-learner. Learner-learner interaction is between the learner and other learners with or without the instructor present. This type of interaction encourages open thinking, deep critical engagement with the topic and with each other, debate, analyzation, collaborative learning, and much more.
**Community of Inquiry**
Wikipedia provides this a useful metaphor of a Community of inquiry.
Community of inquiry
The Buddhist parable of the ‘blind men and the elephant’ offers a colorful way to make sense of the notion of the community of inquiry. The tale finds many blind men fumbling about an elephant, each trying to discover what it is they are touching. They are fixated in disagreement. One finds the elephants leg and believes it a tree. Another finds its trunk and believes it a rope. Yet another finds its side and believes it a wall. The insight is that we are all trapped inside our limited experience and cannot know the truth. If the blind men only cooperated, forming a community whose goal is inquiry into the strange multifaceted object, they may begin to overcome the problematic situation and discover the true nature of the object of their respective opinions. By sharing their experiences in a democratic and participatory manner they could arrive at a more comprehensive truth than their impoverished perspectives allow, isolated from each other. They would show each other why one found the elephant to be like a rope and the other a tree. They would go further, using other ways to collect evidence (e.g., smell the animal, listen to its sounds). Together they would try to reconcile their conflicting conclusions. The blind men would never see the elephant, but they would no longer be trapped in their own limited perspectives. In short, they would be more likely to resolve the problematic situation, that object is no object at all, it is an elephant. But resolution is never final; even their consensus could be in error. All findings are provisional and subject to revision. This is the scientific quality of the community of inquiry.
In Building An Online Learning Community, a learning community is described as “a group of individuals who collaboratively engage in purposeful critical discourse and reflection to construct meaning and confirm mutual understanding,” (Garrison, 2007). A learning community is about learning in a social environment. It is not about not socializing.
The Community of Inquiry theoretical framework represents a process of creating a deep and meaningful (collaborative-constructivist) learning experience through the development of three interdependent elements – social, cognitive and teaching presence.An educational community of inquiry is a group of individuals who collaboratively engage in purposeful critical discourse and reflection to construct personal meaning and confirm mutual understanding.
- Teaching presence is the design, facilitation, and direction of
cognitive and social processes toward the goal of meaningful and
educationally worthwhile learning outcomes.
- Social presence is the ability of participants to identify with the
group, communicate in a trusting environment, and develop social
relationships by way of expressing their individuality.
- Cognitive presence is the exploration, construction, resolution, and
confirmation of understanding.
Zydney, deNoyelles, and Seo analyzed the use of protocols in asynchronous, online discussions in establishing the three essential elements: cognitive presence, social presence, and teaching presence. Specifically, they examined the similarities and differences between a protocol- and non-protocol-based, asynchronous online discussions in fostering these presences.The main finding from the review of literature is that it is important to establish clear guidelines and expectations for student contributions. However, the downside to establishing deadlines is that most of the messages are posted right before the deadline, making it more difficult for students to read the messages, which can shut down opportunities for meaningful interaction (Thomas, 2002). In addition to clarifying issues of timeliness, setting the number, length, and content of messages are also influential factors. Providing clear guidelines for peer interaction in the discussion is also critical (Dennen, 2005).
**Creating Interactive Discussions**
Discussion forums are one of the most used platforms for online communication and community development. A discussion forum is primarily a text-based mode of communication where someone will post a start to a threaded message and people will respond to that thread. Often, many threads can be going at the same time, with longer-lasting discussions. The design and structure of discussions with guidelines or “rules of the road” are a critical part of an online facilitator’s role.
The Virginia Commonwealth University – Center for Teaching Excellence describes discussion boards as the scene of much of the interaction that occurs between student-to-student and student-to-faculty. It is where the social presence of both faculty and students is most evident. Typically, a course has some sequencing of units or lessons, either by week or by topics. Discussion forums flow from this organization. To achieve the deeper learning desired in any course, many factors have to be considered in constructing your discussion forums.
Why should I use a discussion board? Online discussions are not unlike those conducted within the traditional, face-to-face classroom, and are often seen as more useful for the distance instructor who does not meet students face-to-face. Even the on-campus instructor may find discussion boards useful, however. A few advantages to using discussion boards include:
- extending the time allotted for discussions beyond regular class time
to allow for in-depth reflection on comments
- requiring students to move beyond listening to a lecture, stating
their thoughts, engaging in well-articulated argumentation and
- allowing each student to participate and join-in the conversation,
rather than one or two outgoing communicators in the classroom
- providing an outlet for students to pose their questions and receive
feedback from not only the instructor, but also other discussion
- allowing students to reference and bring external sources of
information into the conversation (e.g., “according to this web
- storing a record or archive of conversations for use by future
classes, researchers, others
- allowing discussions to include perspectives from individuals outside
of the original class (i.e., one engineering class at Virginia Tech,
one at Purdue, and one at Georgia Tech, all discussing the same
topic, perhaps including two or three professionals working in the
Chris Weaver from The Discussion Board Book states that student responses don’t just happen, they are carefully planned for by the instructor to illicit the well formed responses.
1. Complete your Week 3: Create community: Connect learners with each other plan.
**Comment on your peers plans in their Google document by using the criteria below.**
- How does your comment contribute in meaningful ways to further make
sense their plan?
- Does your comment add insight? Did you take something from the plan
and relate it to readings, resources, or from what someone else has
said, and analyzes it?
- Or does your comment make a criticism, an observation an
interpretation, or draw a conclusion?
- Or you can ask a question that proposes answers. The good question
asks “why” and “how” and demonstrates you have thought about, and
have done some research, on the question. Answers are proposed and
asked for feedback.