Building Community in your Online Course: Strategies for getting students to work together

Tuesday 3:00pm-4:15pm Student Union: Santa Ana A and B
Round Table Discussion


Hannah Scherer, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ
Facilitating peer learning and building community in online courses represents a fundamental component of student engagement and success in online learning. In this roundtable discussion, we will share examples of synchronous and asynchronous activities and educational technologies that provide online learners with less isolating opportunities to contribute ideas, learn from their peers, and ultimately become part of a more engaged community of online learners.

Building Community in your Online Course: Strategies for getting students to work together -- Discussion  

Kathy Browne, Adam Lindsley, Missy Holzer, Melissa Giovanni, Meg Mobley, Ray Roberts, Robin Matthews

Strategies being used now to build community online:
-make a video to introduce themselves and review each other's work
-big enrollment, no time/dates specified to engage, so discussion groups are big (~25), have instructor model good online behavior
-assign discussion groups, must ask a question to keep discussion going
-how to get students to engage in discussions beyond required minimum?
-everyone must post an intro, why in course, post picture
-well-defined rubrics for discussions
-deadlines for discussions help provoke participation
-make font different color when professor is participating in dicussion
-"group work" - building a "blog" that they all contribute to
-somehow facilitate a way for students to find some common ground (in introductions)

-group projects

How do we know we're using discussions effectively? And if so, does that mean we're building community?


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Angie Allison, Sue Clement, Karen Yip, Lorraine Carey, John Mohr, Laurie Parendes

Challenges - Group interaction

Strategies for getting students to work together
1. Introductions, tell a story of your experiences on a beach (in an oceanography class). Helped to foster connections.
2. Structured responses in discussion boards that requires a more meaningful collaboration among fellow classmates.
3. Needs to be well organized
4. Peer evaluation of essays (with a clear rubric) in the discussion
5. Required field trip to explore Geology of Ohio.


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Students may end up helping each other when they have questions


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Erika C. - teaching hybrid class that she didn't design and wants to build a new course with more community in the course

Martha H. - finds teaching online frustrating because it's hard to get students more engaged and communicating
- teaches oceanography online -has had students reassess their major and what they're doing based on taking her course, in response to a current-event portfolio

Gigi R. - taught fully online and hybrid and have struggled with the building community piece.

Jenny E. - pedagogy coach consulting to faculty who are just now starting to teach online and there is high demand

Michelle S. - just starting to roll out science online courses and is the only one. Looking for ways to make discussions better

Strategies that we are using right now to build community in our online courses:

current-event portfolio where they had to post each week about a topic in the news - had to be something in the news in science. Each week, a link, a summary, a citation and a reflection. They didn't have to comment on each others, but that would be good. They had a separate discussion forum and the topics from the current-event portfolio spill over into the discussion. Used Google sites.
- can use edu-blogs for a weekly assignment (metacognition blog) similar to the current-event portfolio.

Is it possible to do cohorts in an online course?
- google doc is one way to do this
- group projects - how to get them to get over the "group hate"?
- projects that are individual, but have group check-ins- small group discussion that is a feedback and support tool. projects are individual. then groups do a peer-reviews later. Individual checkins in powerpoint slides - one slide per week that are shared with the class later.
- group contract - contracts get better as the semester goes on as they form new groups. There is some metacognition going on.

Check-in/introduction assignment in first week of class with a set of questions for students to answer in a discussion post. Students have to type a dialogue and post a video. Not sure if students actually read each other's videos. Then, there's a quiz based on other students' answers to the questions.


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After each section/module, have a student-teacher one-on-one interaction (before each exam/quiz):
What have you learned?
How did you learn it?
Do you have any additional questions?


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Have "round-table" discussions in small groups (with a deadline) responding to a topic/module, have them respond w/ writing and/or pictures.


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Group projects with high stakes can motivate students to Skype and really get engaged with each other. This worked in a course for MBA students, but would it work with intro course with freshmen?

Weekly discussion with whole class is too big? Break them into smaller groups for small discussions. One student reports out to whole class, just like we do in class. Could this work? The whole group gets the same grade for the report-out?

Problem with small groups and some people not being able to respond to other's post because of slackards who don't make a first post.

Rubric for discussion responses. How to make sure they're substantive? "Five sentences of college-level writing that adds something to the conversation. You can't just say 'I agree'".


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6. Class Scrapbook - a discussion thread for students to post pictures of them 'being a geologist'
7. Group project - oceanography - find an article, and explain its impact. Random groups of three. Students would email each other and discuss in a wiki page (within Blackboard).
8. Wikispaces


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making their discussion more relevant to something students are interested in.


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Getting meaningful responses - specific directions for responses - tell them what you are looking for; use rubrics

Clarify, expand upon, question


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The messaging app is []. And, this podcast and blog is a great resource [], but not science focused. And, they have a Slack channel where you can discuss with faculty all over.


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