Have you ever been on a trip and decided to stop at a church for Sunday service? You walk in. A greeter says “welcome” and turns away. You’re not sure where to sit (do certain groups or people have an assigned seat?). You slip into a side seat, listen to the sermon which includes an interesting message, and then you leave; no discussions of the Word, no fellowship, no sense of belonging because you are not part of that community. The next day you have forgotten the message, and it has had little or no effect on your life. Is that the experience that your online students are having in your classroom? They read (see, hear, watch) the lesson, take a quiz to demonstrate their attendance, and leave? If so, you are missing an important central feature of the online classroom, and missing out on a rewarding, enriching learning experience for you and your students. At WBU we want you to create a community of learners.
In biology, a community is a group of organisms that interact with one another. They have a habitat or place that they occupy, and each has a functional role or niche in the community. There are lots of resources for the members and they interact with each other and the resources to create a balanced and enriched ecosystem. The Blackboard classroom is our habitat. We have the organisms (instructor/facilitator, the students, outside experts) and resources (lectures, power points, websites, papers, etc.) and blackboard tools available. But a community involves interaction and for that to happen you need a sense of belonging, and purpose. Without faces, body language, or synchronous meetings how do you establish presence in an online class and reduce the social distance to create a community?
- Greet and welcome your new learners. You are not Joe Blow pulled off the street to teach! Your background and experiences have placed you in the role of instructor for a reason, so share that with your students. It establishes your role and encourages respect.
- Give your learners a chance to meet and learn about one another. They have different backgrounds, cultural differences, and unique experiences that they bring to the classroom. This will give them different perspectives in their approach to understanding the material.
- Outline specific ways to contact the professor with questions and how to contact other students either through email, messaging, or discussion forums
- Use threaded discussions or blogs where students have to think critically and dialogue about concepts among themselves. The added resources and personal experiences will enrich the knowledge base.
- Offer opportunities for collaboration such as wiki’s or working groups, or try out Blackboard IM or learn how to Blackboard Collaborate to see and hear each other in real time.
- Include interactive lessons via quiz, games, or case studies.
One of the main online pedagogical theories, the constructivist theory, posits that meaning and knowledge is created and shaped through exploration (reading, hearing, researching) and experimentation and testing of the ideas and concepts. This is done through discussion, interactive exercises, collaboration, interaction with classmates who might have life experiences, and feedback from the instructor to promote accuracy. By establishing an online presence you will create a community of learners who seek knowledge and better understanding through interactive learning.