Build online courses

Online courses are becoming increasingly prevalent as students find new ways to attain credits that traditionally could only be done in a physical classroom setting. While online courses can be very beneficial, many online courses do not have the cohesive, community feel that an in-person class has.

So how can online instructors create learning environments that are collaborative, inclusive, and feel more similar to the experience of physically being in a classroom?

Online courses have their benefits. The costs associated with online courses are often times lower, and students can often complete their coursework at their own pace. Online courses allow for more flexibility, and are often a good option for students who only need one or a few credits to complete their degree.

With the good comes the bad. The disadvantage to students learning at their own pace is that it’s up to the student to keep up and stay on track. Time management is especially a tremendous challenge for students in an online course.

In college, I took a mostly online course in which the professor gave us ten assignments, and they were all due the last week of the term. Naturally, I all but forgot about the class until the last two weeks of the quarter! I simply could not prioritize it until the last minute because I didn’t have to.

Finally, in an online course it is easy to forget that you are part of a class. It’s easy to feel like it’s just you, the computer, and a professor somewhere.

There’s a better way.

To enhance performance and remain actively engaged, students must feel like their class is comprised of a group of students and an instructor(s) leading it. They must feel part of a community, a collaborative learning environment that fosters conversation, shared ideas, constructive criticism, and considerations of multiple sides of ideas and interpretations.

How to build a community in your online course

Communities share something in common. In online courses, you won’t have your students sitting together in an auditorium and you can’t see them. You can’t ask a question and randomly call on someone in the back row. So here are some ways to create a community among distanced participants.

1. Get to know your students

You know that your students have some reason they want or need to take your class — find out what that reason is. Send out a survey at the beginning of the term (for participation points) asking them about themselves. Where are they from? Are they taking this class to count as credit toward their program, for a certificate, as a prerequisite, just for fun, or something else? What are their goals for taking the class? What do they hope to learn and achieve? Then publish the data so they can see where everyone else is at.

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