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Friday, August 27, 2010

Building community in the online classroom - I have to go first

This summer I took several classes that involved social media in one way or another. The last one focused on social media for online teaching. Now, at the conclusion of that class, I can say that I had three major ‘aha’ moments that changed my understanding of the online class community.

First, that it takes time to build community: the forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning phases are vital; they cannot be hurried of skipped if one’s goal indeed is to build an online community. Yes, this takes time. It’s an investment of resources that currently are not captured in any SLO, yet they can make or break the learning success in a class.

The second main point for me is the fact that participation is key. I read in “Stages of Group Development” that collaboration is, essentially, interaction. This means that I have to make a change in how I facilitate my online classes. I have been very tolerant of lurkers - the lurker, the person who is around but not visible through contributions – and I now realize that the lurker is not part of the community. Hence, I will privately encourage lurkers to participate, and set minimum requirements for all.

Third, that I, as instructor, should model the process, and actively engage in the collaboration. Until now, I had considered the instructor’s presence as a distraction (at best) or as a pace setter, not to be overtaken. I now realize that my participation in the activities and on discussion boards will increase the feeling of “all of us are in this together,” and that my mantra, we are all learning together, can become a reality.
I already recorded a welcome message using VoiceThread for my late-start online class. I am not using a new toy just to use the new toy, I am starting with the end in mind: Building community, increasing social presence, and engaging as a whole person.

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