In a traditional classroom, students interact with each other in the same physical classroom space. This frequent face-to-face contact helps students build friendships and create a learning community. However, an online/hybrid learning environment does not provide such a sense of community unless the instructor provides community-building opportunities, such as group assignments, discussion forums, and other social activities. Below you will find several research-based frameworks to inform your thinking about how to enhance community and interaction in your online/hybrid courses, as well as face to face environments.
Community of Inquiry
Peter Shea and Temi Bidjerano contend that the traditional community of inquiry model (Anderson, Garrison, and Archer 2001) should be revised to include Learning Presence (Shea, Bidjerano, 2010) and therefore, be comprised of four key integrated elements:
The extent to which the professor and the students are able to construct and affirm meaning through sustained discourse (discussion) in a community of inquiry is cognitive presence. It is a vital element in enhancing critical thinking. Cognitive presence can be demonstrated by introducing factual, conceptual, and theoretical knowledge into the discussion.
Social presence is the complete and interactive educational experience of participants in the didactic process.
Teaching presence supports the design and management of an educational experience and facilitates the communication between teachers and students. Teaching presence supports and enhances both cognitive and social presence in achieving educational outcomes.
Learning presence involves learner self-regulation and self-efficacy, predominantly in the online environment. Self-regulated students monitor their time and cognitive strategies, regulate their own study environment, and manage their interactions with peers to maximize learning. Furthermore, the relationship between teaching presence and self-efficacy is stronger for students in blended learning environments and self-efficacy and effort are dynamically associated with teaching and social presence.
A revised CoI model (Source: Shea & Biderjano, 2010), available via license: CC BY 4.0
Deep and meaningful learning is generated through the interaction of these core elements within a community of inquiry. Building a community is important for any course, but essential for online courses. It is important to emphasize the joint development of the above elements in order to foster community in the class. This encourages students to feel comfortable in the course, establishing relationships and openly discussing course content with peers.
Cultivating a strong sense of community takes time, commitment and good planning.
The following are some suggested activities for the online environment to help build a social learning community: