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Create a Sense of Community for Online Learners

by Janice Florent

Online instructors must find new ways to engage their students and create a sense of community in a virtual world. Simple participation in an online course is not enough to create and sustain an online learning community.

How do you engage your students and inspire them to engage one another? In a THE Journal article, Chris Riedel, shared tips he got from the FETC conference to help educators create a sense of community online. Those tips are:

Create a compelling first impression - use tools like a smart phone, a webcam, or iMovie to build a memorable introduction to the course and course material. This is a great way to break the ice.
Encourage students to create their own spaces for learning - these include blogs, wikis, social media and other outlets.
Connect to students in multiple ways - find digital spaces students are comfortable with and let them take control.
Create support groups - create "support groups" of students who can be there for one another and provide an additional mechanism for learning.
Video trumps text - use video to communicate with students and encourage students to use video to connect with each other.
Audio trumps text - there is value in using voice; audio can add real value to your interactions with students and their interactions with each other.
Be a connector first, a content expert second - find guest speakers to add context and value to what is being learned in the class setting.
Play together - give students the freedom to explore new things and play with new ideas and technologies.
Define the expectations of the community - every class should have to answer two questions:

  • What did you learn from others?
  • What did you contribute to the learning of others?

While the focus of THE Journal website is on informing and educating K-12 teachers and administrators, Chris' tips for creating a sense of community for online learners are relevant for any online instructor. For more information read his “9 Tips for Creating a Sense of Community for Distance Learners” article.

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