Week 3: Create community: Connect learners with each other

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.

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.[5] 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.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105. PDF full text

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

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 critical reasoning
  • 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 board participants
  • allowing students to reference and bring external sources of information into the conversation (e.g., “according to this web site…”)
  • 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 field)

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.


Blogs are another way to share and interact online. Learners use blogs in online courses for different purposes. Blogs are used to showcase individual student work in a publicly accessible forum that includes feedback for interaction between learners. Blogging also enables learners to engage with people beyond the online classroom. Blogs have been used  for personal journals, diaries, story writing, and for making  responses to events. Blogging promotes creativity and self-expression.

According to Wikipedia;

Blogs archive and support student and teacher learning by facilitating reflection, questioning by self and others, collaboration[1] and by providing contexts for engaging in higher-order thinking.[2][3] Edublogs proliferated when blogging architecture became more simplified and teachers perceived the instructional potential of blogs as an online resource.[1]

Pifarré, Guijosa andArgelagós, in Using a blog to create and support a Community of Inquiry in Secondary Education, discuss a series of issues that instructors should consider when blogs are incorporated into teaching and learning. We claim that embedded scaffolds to help students to argue and reason their comments in the blog are required to foster blog-supported collaborative learning



Next: Please read and review

One thought on “Week 3: Create community: Connect learners with each other

  1. During a past online seminar on teaching, Dr. Joan Thormann of Lesley University, shared six ideas for improving the sense of community in an online environment:. I loved her ideas, so I share them here.

    Optimized use of introductions: Encourage students (and the professor) to share personal information like hobbies, interests, and demographic data. This will build community, raise interest in the students in the class, and make for a friendly online environment. This is an easy first assignment.
    Use of the instructor as a model: As an instructor, consider giving students feedback about their assignments using a template that details the expectations for the assignment. Model good communications by adding personal comments tailored to the student, thereby giving an example of substantive writing.
    Use of a clear grading system: Encourage the students to give helpful contributions by grading their discussions every week. Give them guidance on what sort of contributions are expected, such as in-depth analysis rather than simply “I agree.”
    Use of student moderators: The instructor does not have to be the only one to encourage valuable contributions from students in the course. Use student moderators on a rotating basis to manage discussions. This practice will increase the sense of ownership of the course and help students learn to support each other and deepen their content knowledge.
    Use of voice conferences: In some cases, a live voice conference can be a valuable addition to the online course. These opportunities let students get to know each other and strengthen their overall communication.
    Development of supportive forums: Develop some online forums where students can go for support, assistance, and an exchange of information with other students. Don’t respond right away to inquiries; give students time to help one another and build community.
    Shared by Bernie McPherson

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.