Building Community in Online Courses

Authored by Dr. Kathleen Stone, Western Governors University

In November, I presented at the AAACE annual conference on research I completed as part of an Ed.D in Higher Education and Adult Learning. My research explored how adult online students at a small rural community college described a sense of school community when completing online courses. I wanted to understand their perceptions of the presence of a sense of school community and what aspects they felt could contribute to successful completion of online courses. From this small qualitative case study, I found students did not perceive a sense of school community, yet they felt having a greater sense of school community would help them successfully complete online courses. What is school community and why look at this factor when exploring online course completion rates?

A sense of community in an online environment includes two distinct aspects: classroom community and school community. A sense of community in the online classroom has been the focus of much research in distance learning (Childress & Spurgin, 2009; Rovai, Wighting, & Lucking, 2004). However, less attention and research has been given to the culture and climate that makes up a school community in the online environment (Childress & Spurgin, 2009; Rovai, Wighting, & Liu, 2005). School community has two dimensions: social community and learning community. A school’s social community involves “spirit, cohesion, trust, safety, trade, interdependence, and a sense of belonging” (Rovai et al., 2004, p. 267). A school’s learning community consists of the feelings of learning community members regarding the degree to which they share group norms and values and the extent to which their educational goals and expectations are satisfied by group membership (Rovai et al., 2004, p. 267). (Read More...)