Developing Learning Communities Online
A Multi-year Study Exploring the Role of Not-for-credit Online Activities to Support Student Connection
Keywords:online learning communities, learning community development, student collaboration, student relationship building
While online course delivery in higher education has been increasing for several decades, students can face unique challenges in the digital environment. At a small university in Western Canada, online and blended learning have been a major focus for course delivery since 1995. Considering the risk that students could experience a lack of meaningful connection with their fellow students, the university launched a not-for-credit online learning module in 2006 that was designed to provide new-to-program students with resources and activities to encourage learning community development. Since the first module was launched, several programs at the university have adapted the original module to suit their specific needs. In this paper, we explore the experiences of graduate students in three programs over an eight-year period. Students completed surveys focused on the role of three module activities in helping them develop a supportive online learning community. The findings were organized under three areas that revealed elements of the module that worked well, areas for improvement, and suggestions for module additions. The recommendations call for making modules that are not-for-credit, mandatory, support both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration, use only one web-based entry point, consider time zones, and support students’ ability to balance their education with their out-of-school commitments. For those who may wish to include similar activities for their students, we have included a link in the paper to the Open Educational Resource that was developed in support of our research.
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