Roles in Creating Community

‘We must act as if our institutions are ours to create, our learning is ours to define, our leadership we seek is ours to become.’  Peter Block

Roles in Creating Community

Designers, developers, and presenters of online content face special challenges when considering the best ways to generate student engagement and successful participation in online courses. Where community in a face-to-face classroom setting is virtually guaranteed by the normal interactions of people in the social setting which is the classroom, this is not the case in the online environment. John King illustrates this point in the video as noted in the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=D201NOHg3M4#! .

The point being made is that the online environment is a vastly different one than that faced by instructors in the classroom and that different strategies must be employed to effectively deal with this difference. Teachers must look at their roles in the instructional process and lead from a different standpoint, one where integration of technology is placed hand-in-hand with active student involvement and a review of traditionally held beliefs about standard pedagogical views (Labonte 2008).  This of course requires a re-evaluation of the teacher’s roles and responsibilities in the relationship with their students. The objective of this paper is to examine teacher roles and some of the effects that the modern day teacher has in the development of the online learning environment.

What Have I Learned?

The standard educational paradigm has changed for teachers and instructors in the new online world. As Downes describes it; ” If I had to summarize the best advice I could give to e-learning developers, it would be this: here are two key lessons for learning professionals:

1. Adapt to the on-demand world.

2. Embed learning into the context of people’s work.” (Downes, 2012)

This means that more emphasis has to be on the student’s needs: younger learners have different styles, requirements, and expectations of the educational system generally  and online course work specifically. Designers and presenters alike ignore this fact at their peril. At the same time there are more older learners as well who have their own styles and needs. Learning to address this wide disparity will be ever more challenging. The results of ignoring this and other good practices in the virtual classroom such as the development of reciprocity between students, the encouragement of active learning, the conveyance of expectations and the like cannot be undervalued (Dreon, 2013). If these factors are ignored the student is likely to feel alienated, suffer from disillusionment in the educational process and perhaps even fail or have to resort to remedial work to pass the course or courses they are enrolled in.

How Do I Identify With This Topic?

As a student in an online course where community was not completely at the forefront I have seen first-hand the results of a lack of community in a  body of students.  There must be an active encouragement of community in the virtual class, as well as buy-in from the students. This required commitment or active participation if you will must be fostered in the students by the instructor through various techniques and mechanisms such as message boards, social networks, participatory learning forums, and group assignments all designed to promote a spirit of communal cooperation.  Community neither created or encouraged is like a garden without water: there may be seeds and soil but no growth.   

How Will I Apply This New Learning In My Online Course?

The underlying challenge for developers and presenters of online content is to ensure that the virtual environment of any course encourages a sense of community, both in the forefront of things as well as in the background. There must be the creation of a `social sense` in the virtual environment; a both subtle and overt engagement of the students or there is the risk of social isolation and the concomitant loss of interest with associated poor outcomes (Brindley et al 2009). This development of community has other related side benefits: an increased ability to think and formulate critically, the co-creation of knowledge and meaning both in the individual and the group as a whole, the encouragement of a reflective state, and transformative learning. Taken together it can be seen that a new approach to both the design and application of online content must be kept top-of-mind, one that integrates the demands of learning styles of multiple, diverse groups of learners with a newer framework for encouraging community based learning exercises and environments as advocated by both Downs and Siemens.

To these ends there are several strategies which come to mind to help build community in groups being offered online content:

  • enable learner readiness for group work (and thence community building) through a pre-published statement of expectations at the beginning of the course;
  • establish a sense of community by encouraging openness, honesty, ethical fairness,  dialogue between students,  and diverse, respectful discussions;
  • ensure that tasks assigned during the course are those best performed in a group setting;
  • group tasks should be relevant to the course in the context of individual learners and the group as a whole.

The responsibility for all this rests solely with the instructor. He or she must be moderator, facilitator, mediator, confessor and above all friend to the student. The overall success or failure of the student is directly influenced by the instructor’s role and the way he or she develops the sense of both community and contribution to that community on the part of the student.

References:

1)- As retrieved from ‘Connectivism and Connective Knowledge, Essays on meaning and learning networks’, Stephen Downes, May 2012, http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=58207

2) ) Oliver Dreon, Feb 2013, Faculty Focus ezine, ezine@facultyfocusemail.com;

3)- Randy Labonte, 2008, Leadership and Elearning, Change Processes for Implementing Educational Technologies,  Education for a Digital World, BCcampus and Commonwealth of Learning, 2008, www.bccampus.ca;

4)-John King, YouTube video June 2010, Purdue University, Competencies for Online Teaching Success,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=D201NOHg3M4#!

4)- Randy Labonte, 2008, Leadership and Elearning, Change Processes for Implementing Educational Technologies,  Education for a Digital World, BCcampus and Commonwealth of Learning, 2008, www.bccampus.ca;

5)-  Jane E. Brindley, Christine Walti & Lisa M. Blaschke, Creating Effective Collaborative Learning Groups In An Online Environment, The International Review of Online and Distance Learning, Volume 10, No3 (2009) (http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/675/1313 )

6)- George Siemens, ‘Connectivism, A Learning Theory for The Digital Age, eLearnspace,  http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

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