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Questions: Encouraging participation and quiet community

Questions: Encouraging participation and quiet community

by Colleen Grandy -
Number of replies: 4

Two questions I'm hung up on this Halloween: 

  1. Other than by creating super engaging activities, how do you encourage participation in your community building activities? This question came up in Tara and Hillarie's sharing and feedback posts/threads. Do you grade community building activities? Do you ask for (or require?) a specific level of participation? I usually try to invite, but not require, participation in these types of activities  - and even this sometimes can make an activity feel forced.  How do you find requiring participation or evaluating community building affects it?

  2. Do you mostly look for visible connections (comments, conversations, likes, tags etc.) as evidence of community? Can community exist without this evidence? How else might you see (or feel?) community? 


Bitmoji Colleen lifting a pumpkin

In reply to Colleen Grandy

Re: Questions: Encouraging participation and quiet community

by Beth Cougler Blom -

I've never evaluated community building activities per se but those kinds of student posts might roll up into a contribution/participation grade I give in the credit course I teach, so I might be watching and somewhat evaluating participating in seemingly ungraded activities. For example, in my workplace innovation course I teach, I ask people to introduce themselves after watching the Mindsets videos from designkit.org, and talk about which mindsets they connect with, etc. I do find the students do like to do this activity, and I know they connect with it because they continue to talk about and refer back to mindsets quite a bit later in the course.

One thing I was thinking about, however, is about the things that we may NOT see our students doing to attempt to build community for themselves. For example, in an online course I co-facilitated (I think it might have been a Moodle skills online course at RRU), one of the participants (a faculty member at RRU) said that she had put up all our names and faces on the wall in her office, to help her connect with each of us. I think she used our Moodle profile photos to do this. So she visibly created a sort of 'course community wall' around her to help her to get to know us better. I may be making this up (it was a couple of years ago at least) but I think she may even have filled out a few details about us on our "profiles" on her wall, things that we had said in our course introductions.

In that scenario I just described, I wouldn't have know that my student was doing this if she hadn't have told me. So perhaps we should be giving our students ideas about things that they can do on their own to help build course community...as well as things they can do with the rest of us...?

Beth

In reply to Beth Cougler Blom

Re: Questions: Encouraging participation and quiet community

by Colleen Grandy -

I do that, too! This term I used (what now seems kind of creepy) a hidden "human glossary" full of student info that popped up throughout the first few weeks of class as a cheat sheet to help me better connect with students. It helped! I don't need it now, but in those first few weeks I depended on it. I guess it is the virtual equivalent of the sketched seating chart I would fill in as people arrived every day for the first few weeks of a face-to-face class? Yes - quiet work is happening. 

This is why I always wonder about evaluating visible participation in a participation grade in online courses. One Yukon College instructor developed an algorithm to help calculate quiet participation in her courses. When she looked at the Moodle logs she would notice some students spent hours visiting every page/post, but actually posted very little - she wanted to honour their quiet learning as participation.

I like the idea of having students share strategies they use to connect with (or even just remember) each other. Gina and I were thinking that if we had more time in this MicroCourse, it would be interesting to hear folks' experiences of when they most felt "community" in a course (as a student or facilitator). We might need a follow-up MicroCourse...

In reply to Colleen Grandy

Re: Questions: Encouraging participation and quiet community

by Sylvia Riessner -

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.



In reply to Sylvia Riessner

Re: Questions: Encouraging participation and quiet community

by Gina Bennett -

Hi Sylvia, you said:

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? 

Such a good point! In most online courses, community building is not the ultimate goal -- although it can play a part towards that overriding goal of learning what they need. 

The title of my Master's thesis was: Strangers in a strange land: Rural learners in distance education. I did the study in the pre-Facebook era when students were generally less techno-literate so some of my conclusions may no longer be valid. But what I learned was that most of the rural learners in my study were strongly attached to their own (geographical) community & really not that interested in becoming a part of an academic community (online or otherwise), which often felt very foreign to them. Using a Community of Practice (CoP) model, I suggested that most of the learners in my study were looking to advance within their given CoP, or to enter another one. So I recommended designing learning activities that would facilitate this goal: getting them to introduce themselves to local potential mentors or colleagues within the new CoP, doing activities within their community that helped others see them as seeking a new role, that kind of thing. 

I am not a huge Facebook fan but I do think it has helped people feel more comfortable connecting with others, virtually, so I doubt that kind of connection feels very foreign anymore. And I certainly see the value in creating & maintaining community among a cohort of learners who are going to be together for a while (e.g. in an online program). But, as you suggest, we have to hold in mind the ultimate goal: that students learn what they need, what is most meaningful to them, to achieve the  outcomes for success.