How does the instructor impact the community in an online course? What should be done to contribute to the community? What are some behaviours that could have a detrimental effect on the community? What are some ideas for overcoming the negative impacts?
What have you learned about the topic?
Instructor presence in an online course is a key factor to building community. However, it is the quality and not the quantity of an instructor’s contributions that truly make the difference and increase students’ learning. According to Brown (2001), some key causal conditions that lead to the development of community in an online course are as follows:
- expected behavior is modeled by the instructor
- sufficient time is given for discussion and interaction
- similarities between participants are identified
- there is a personal or academic need/desire to be part of a community
- high priority is placed on class interaction
- students are engaged in class dialogue
It is so important for the instructor to be present and on the ball in an online course. Not only should the instructor model expected behaviour, I feel that expectations should be clearly laid out as well. In online courses, there are often eLearning veterans as well as students who might be experiencing the online course for the first time.
I think sufficient time for discussions to develop is also very important. Conrad and Donaldson (2011) point out that online discussions take longer to develop but the depth of the responses and discussion is likely to be much greater than a discussion that would take place in a face to face classroom. As a result, fewer activities/tasks are needed in an online course and more emphasis should be placed in the interaction of students within one activity/task.
Why did you choose this topic? How do you identify with it?
I am very interested in the different ways of keeping online courses engaging and interactive and have always felt that there is a much greater chance of learning and participation if there is a sense of community whether it be in an online course or a face to face classroom. One of the main things an effective instructor can do is to build rapport with their students. I feel that if students are comfortable with the instructor, the chances of them being comfortable with each other are much higher as well. I always feel like I learn so much from sharing with my peers and really enjoy being part of a ‘community of practice’ as a student as well as an instructor.
So far, in my experiences as an online course developer, I have not done much facilitating. I have some experience in developing materials and setting up online courses and very little experience in facilitating an online course. In the little experience I had as an online course facilitator, there were times where I felt that it was awkward for me to jump in unless I had a resource to add or something new to contribute. There were a few times where I just thanked a participant for their post but in the back of my head, I wondered if this was even useful. The role of the facilitator/instructor in online discussions is an interesting one in that you want to have some presence but you also don’t want to overstep and shut students up by contributing too much. I want to explore ways in which I can maintain the balance of having useful presence without overshadowing students.
What does this new learning mean to you? What new insights do you now have? How has your thinking changed because of this learning?
I really like this useful list of the instructor’s facilitating tasks from Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, & Archer (2001).
- identify areas of agreement/disagreement
- seeking to reach consensus/understanding
- encouraging, acknowledging, or reinforcing student contributions
- setting climate for learning
- drawing in participants, prompting discussion
- assessing the efficacy of the process
All of these are things that the instructor/facilitator can do to make sure that the online discussion is moving along.
From looking at this, I realize that in my own experience facilitating an online discussion, I did try to do these things and even though I wasn’t sure if my ‘thanking’ someone for their contribution was useful, it can be – in moderation and balanced with the other methods of facilitating discourse.
I think building community in an online course has similarities with building community in a face to face class. The instructor sets the tone with their presence and draws out things the students have in common and keeps them engaged with meaningful and inspiring tasks that will make them want to explore and learn with each other. The instructor then takes a backseat and facilitates the students’ discussions. After all, adults learn best by experiencing, collaborating, and constructing their own knowledge.
How can this new learning be applied in your online course?
In my online course, I will spend more time on fewer but more meaningful tasks. I see the benefits in investing more time at the beginning of a course on getting to know my students as well as giving them a chance to get to know each other. I will try to have more focused discussions and allow more time for these discussions to develop. I really like the facilitation tasks from Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, & Archer (2001) and will use those to guide my own facilitating when the time comes.
Anderson, T., Rourke, L., Garrison, R., & Archer, W. Assessing teaching presence in a computer conferencing context. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 5 (2): 1-17, 2001. Retrieved from http://cde.athabascau.ca/coi_site/documents/Anderson_Rourke_Garrison_Archer_Teaching_Presence.pdf
Brown, R. The process of community building in distance learning classes. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 5 (2): 18-35, 2001.
Conrad, R.M. & Donaldson, J.A. (2011). Engaging the online learner. [Kindle version]. Available from Amazon.com.
Shea, P., Li, S.L., Swan, K., Pickett, A. (2005). Developing learning community in online asynchronous college courses: The role of teaching presence.