One of the biggest concerns of faculty and students new to online learning is the feeling of disconnection and distance. Creating an interactive learning community can make all the difference for student satisfaction in an online course. In addition, the learning community is a great way to encourage students to think critically about your academic content, to reflect on their learning, and to consider connections between a Christian worldview and the core content to be learned.
The Community of Inquiry model of online learning includes the Social Presence and the Cognitive Presence. (We will examine the Teaching Presence in depth later.) Let’s look at some ways to support the Social Presence and Cognitive Presence in your online classroom.
Social Presence is “the ability of participants to identify with the community (e.g., course of study), communicate purposefully in a trusting environment, and develop inter-personal relationships by way of projecting their individual personalities” (Garrison, 2009).
In a face to face class, how do students and the professor get to know each other? They see each other’s faces and body language. They share their ideas in classroom discussion. They may meet each other outside of class to work on additional learning.
Online, we need to deliberately set up spaces for students to get to know each other and for you to get to know them. In high quality online programs, students even feel a bond of solidarity and friendship and are excited to meet each other later face to face.
Here are some ideas to enhance the social presence of your online classroom:
- Create an introductions forum for students to get to know each other personally and professionally. Have students share prior knowledge and experience on the content.
- Create general forums to support the class. Some examples to choose from include:
- General Questions
- Technical Questions
- Learning Process Comments
- Housekeeping Issues
- Online Chapel
- If you have a live synchronous time, always include icebreaker times. Have students share the weather where they are, or something interesting from their location.
- Encourage students to share personal experiences to connect with the content, where appropriate.
Cognitive Presence is the extent to which learners are able to construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2001).
- Create spaces for students to engage in practical inquiry and to test new ideas. Tips for designing practical inquiry in your course.
- Encourage students to think about their thinking (metacognition). This article has a framework for discussion prompts to encourage metacognition.
- Require students to use specific critical thinking skills and tools, and model it for them in the discussion.
- Ask students questions, and require them to ask each other questions that engender deeper thinking.
Talk to your Instructional Facilitator for more ideas or assistance with applying these ideas to your course. Find these tips and more online in the Online Course Development Support Site.