An online community is a group of people that share a common purpose, in this case, centered around the objectives of the course in which they are enrolled. This community includes not only students, but also the instructor(s) and, in many cases, experts from outside of PSU. In order to create and strengthen this online community, it is important to build mechanisms into a course that allow for connections to be made with others.

Understanding your students is a critical step in building an online community. Get to know your students through surveys, polls, or the ever popular, introduction discussion forum. This should be a meaningful place in an online course for students to share a bio and their interests in taking the class. Once you understand your students and their needs, you can begin to develop a sense of community through relevant and meaningful interaction.

When you establish an online community, it helps you and your students to:

  • Create meaningful learning experiences.
  • Answer larger questions that are outside of the scope of the class.
  • Increase engagement and student autonomy with access to experts/master teachers/community members.
  • Foster deeper learning connections with student collaboration.

Technology and collaborative teaching practices encourage interaction among students — providing opportunities for more authentic engagement and helping to facilitate a dialogue central to learning new skills and strategies for applied critical thinking.

How Do I Build an Online Community?

Get started building community with three easy ideas:

  1. Encourage students to build a digital identity: Bring a sense of community into online spaces by encouraging students to share a piece of media (photo, video, article, sound clip).
  2. Develop a help seeking strategy: Consider where your students go for help/questions. You as the instructor do not have to be the only person who helps and answers questions.
    • Example: Consider inviting a community expert to monitor a discussion forum for the week or have students help each other answer questions.
  3. Allow for student choice in discussion forums or group work: Give students the opportunity to engage in activities and/or assignments that are valuable and meaningful to them.
    • Example: Have three topics each week open for students to choose the topic they are most interested in. Guidelines and expectations for student participation should be outlined.

These examples promote student autonomy and flexibility, key strategies in designing for adult learners. As you build your course with community building in mind, routine is essential. Provide expectations that are clear, simple, and consistent. Regular deadlines, a consistent, weekly format, and detailed instructions that outline student involvement and collaboration will lead to more engaging interactions and a feeling of inclusion in an online community.

Learn More Elsewhere

This article was last updated on Nov 12, 2020 @ 3:33 pm.

Need More Help?

We'd love to hear from you. Full-service remote support is available to all PSU instructors through the Office of Academic Innovation. Contact the virtual Faculty Support Desk, Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm.

Send a Message

Chat with Support Staff

Privacy Preference Center