Wow, some great ideas to think about in this thread.
Beth, thanks for sharing your intro activity - I love the idea of using these videos to think about mindsets. And that people naturally thought about them as they moved through the course. I've tucked that away in my virtual backpocket.
And the story about the unseen community participation of the learner who mapped her peers onto a wall. We've used the Participants list (and profile images) in the northern project I'm involved with as the teleconference calls often involve a fair number of participants across 4 timezones and it seems to help them to imagine who is speaking (and listen better) with the visual prompt.
In terms of mapping participation, when I've facilitated FLO I sometimes (twice ;-) used a free mindmapping tool on my iPad (SimpleMind) to show me connections between me and the learners (thanks to Beth for the inspiration about actually tracking what I do each week in terms of touching base or taking a look at how each participant is doing! - I had always presumed I did that naturally but I realized I had sometimes lost track of how a learner was doing).
Initially this was from my perspective - what I was doing to help the learning but it quickly shifted to map the interconnections between (among) learners. The mindmapping tool made it easy to add quick notes if the interactions resulted in an interesting conversations or 'nuggets' that I might want to tease out further etc. It really did provide clarity about the way the online community was evolving. I wish I could share one but my iPad is so old that I can't access the maps anymore and they aren't available on other platforms.
Personally, I don't believe in or value assigning marks for participation (as a way to encourage participation). Part of that is because I don't teach credit courses per se, but I really think they are unfair unless the participation requirement is defined and measured by a specific activity or action (not based on number of posts in a forum, or number of words).
Colleen, I appreciated you raising the issue of 'quiet' students. When I took my first online courses, I was definitely one of those. And I know that some of my online learners may not visibly participate because they come from different cultures (who value different ways of learning) or because they personally don't see the value of doing so.
And back to Colleen's original question "Other than by creating super engaging activities, how do you encourage participation in your community building activities?" I think that we may be focusing too much on community building if that's the focus of engaging students. As long as they learn what they need and what is most meaningful to them (and achieves the stated outcomes for success in the course) then, isn't that more important? While I may believe that they could have learned more, better, with a deeper or broader understanding, I also think that sometimes they have so many other important things going on in their lives, that they not be able to engage at the level I might think optimal.