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...)


At UC San Diego, retired professors are mentoring first-generation college students

A mentoring program can provide crucial support to students. JD Lasica, CC BY-NC

A mentoring program can provide crucial support to students. JD Lasica, CC BY-NC

Authored by Melvin Green, Professor Emeritus Biology, University of California, San Diego

My mother cried when I told her I was changing my major from engineering to chemistry. Her fear was that I would never earn a living as a chemist.

When she heard a few years later that I planned to go for a PhD in chemistry, her only comment was,

So why don’t you at least become a real doctor?

Doctor, lawyer, engineer – these were careers that Eastern European immigrants such as my mother and father knew had definite earning power. Having survived the Great Depression, they believed earning a living was all that mattered.

As a student in the 1950s, I had never heard of the word “mentor.” In retrospect, as a first-generation college student, I would have really been helped by having a “mentor,” especially with regard to choosing a career.

So, for the past 10 years, following my retirement as professor of biology at the University of California, San Diego, my greatest joy and sense of satisfaction has come from mentoring undergraduates.

First-generation students

It wasn’t always that way.

As a young professor, struggling to climb the academic ladder toward tenure and a full professorship, my research took precedence over all else, including teaching and even family life. Read More...