Last year I spent two days in a cold hotel conference room in Dallas practicing how to build connections between group members. Connecting individuals increases their chances of building community. Building community helps with success.

Encourage connections with and among your students as you lead your course. Our students are our customers. They seek knowledge, support and guidance from us, from classmates, from our organization. Connect with your students: “to be influential, you must be in touch regularly and valuably.” 1

Building community

Can we improve the likelihood that students will interact with their cohort? Yes. Drouin & Vartanian delve into how a sense of community is derived in Students’ feelings of and desire for a sense of community in face-to-face and online courses. “The concept of community is not new. A learning environment that fosters interaction and social learning has been deemed an essential feature of the higher education experience for over 20 years…”2

If we, as educators, carefully read what students contribute and then draw comparisons in our summary posts—recap to discussion elements—we may help them make connections. Did two or more of your students mention their busy lives? Anyone talk about hobbies? Connect those students to each other. Perhaps one busy student has a study method to share.

Leveraging social interaction

Students need to “learn how to apply their online social technology knowledge to being an online learner. Giving students the idea that they can contribute to strengthening a successful online community” allows the student to feel empowered.3 West’s work includes steps for coaching and encouraging students to interact. Building a cohort and communicating with others reinforces the learning process.

No discussion board (Blackboard, G+, VoiceThread, WordPress) assignments? Consider creating a space where they can interact. It does not have to be associated with classwork. This space can take a variety of forms from a Blackboard discussion thread to a Facebook class page.

Presence, absorption & continuity

You might reduce the rate students disconnect from the online course by building your connection to them and the ties they feel to other learners in the class. Leong’s work covers the connections between social presence, cognitive absorption and student satisfaction; a student immersed in some aspect related to the course, returns to the course.
When recording responses to your students, identify common themes, provide positive feedback, utilize a phrase or idea shared by each student. Lead them into the next module’s materials and make any corrections needed. Help your students connect to the content as well as one another. Weaving and summarizing techniques builds community, reinforces learning and may reduce moderation and grading tasks.

Weaving “is more than just summarizing a discussion. Instead it connects participants’ contributions to the workshop’s themes and applies higher level concepts to the participants’ ideas and experiences.” 5

References

Cecil, J. (2000). Customers: Love ’em or lose ’em. Rough Notes, 143(4), 98-98,102.

Leong, P. (2011). Role of social presence and cognitive absorption in online learning environments. Distance Education, 32(1), 5-28. doi:10.1080/01587919.2011.565495.

Drouin, M., & Vartanian, L. (2010). Students’ feelings of and desire for sense of community in face-to-face and online courses. Quarterly Review Of Distance Education, 11(3), 147-159.

West, Richard E. A Student’s Guide to Strengthening an Online Community. (2010). TechTrends: Linking Research & Practice to Improve Learning, 54(5), 69-75. doi:10.1007/s11528-010-0439-7.

Janssens-Bevernage, A. (2015, January 19). A step-by-step guide to weaving online feedback – DynaMind eLearning. Retrieved October 5, 2016, from e-facilitation.