Posts made 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. 


hi Leonne

I felt angry reading about the teammate who contacted you "with a blast highlighted in red" & I sense my impulse to want to teach this person some manners (silly, I know, & it's not as if this approach would do any good).  

But IMO your post illustrates such a strong core reason for developing a sense of genuine community: we do it because it creates a safe, supportive environment for learning, & because engaged, connected students are more likely to stay the course. And because it's the kind thing to do.

At College of the Rockies, we had an informal "Lost Souls" policy. It went something like this: if you haven't seen your online student log in by the end of the first week, contact them (preferably by phone in case there's a problem with internet connection). And if you don't hear from them for over 2 weeks, contact them. Most instructors did this anyway but the occasional instructor would actively resist with the argument: "My students are adults & if they don't bother to participate in the class, that's their problem." My return argument was "Caring about and contacting your students is also adult behaviour" ... but this was not always effective. :-/

I like your checklist approach! It is simple, definitely not intimidating (even to a student with weak technical skills), communicates your concern while keeping the onus for contact with the student. This would be a great way to maintain contact even with students in asynchronous self-paced online programs -- notoriously hard to build community in those settings.


Hi Janna, thanks for posting!

Funny how work and family involvements so easily expand to fill the entire 24 hours (sometimes seems even more) of every day. I'm semi-retired now & thought I'd finally have lots of time but family, work, & community obligations continue to spill into every available minute it seems. 

It sounds like you are already developing your own multi-tool collection of community-building ideas. I know you are new(ish) to online teaching/facilitation but the fact that you are not new to caring about your students, that you "like to create opportunities to hear from everyone in the room about themselves" is a great starting point. The challenge, of course, is to figure out how to make that happen when we're not all together in the same room...  Because you enjoyed the video introductions in FLO Fundamentals, that makes it a good activity to try -- not least because you appreciated its value & can genuinely communicate that enthusiasm to your online students.

I don't know if you've had time to check out Colleen's post in the Open Forum but she (& others) have been reflecting on some really key questions:  Once you have your community-building activity in place, how will you encourage participation? Will you require participation (e.g. by grading community participation)? 

Beth, you raised an interesting observation that our names can mean different things in different cultures, different languages. A couple of years ago I was working on a little curriculum project in Tanzania, & was being introduced to my Tanzanian colleagues. You know how introductions can go: one person extends their hand while saying their name & then you return with your own name. I got the strangest confused looks when I introduced myself. Turns out that "gina" means "name" in Swahili (spelled "jina" but pronounced the same). Addressing the confusion got us all chuckling.

So I digress too! But I guess we all have some stories about our names & I can see how this could be a productive icebreaker.


Sylvia C just reminded me about the excellent questions appearing in the Open Forum.  Check out Colleen's latest post for some really insightful queries, & feel free to add questions (or answers?) of your own.