Page 26 - Campus Technology, August/September 2017
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CAMPUS TECHNOLOGY | August/September 2017
Giving students “voice, choice and connectivity” will help them gain a sense of belonging in a group even when they’re states and countries apart.
By Dian Schaffhauser
SURE, YOU USE YOUR LEARNING management system’s discussion forums to bring people together online for class conversations. Yet, that’s not the same as creating community. According to Bonnie Mullinix, a lead member of the contributing faculty in the PhD program at Walden University’s College of Education, discussion forum activity is often done “pro forma” — as a requirement of class. True community encompasses student “voice, choice and connectivity,” she asserted, during a presentation she delivered at the Online Learning Consortium Innovate 2017 conference. Best, she said, the tools that can help build community in online courses are free.
Mullinix began her hunt for community-friendly tools in 2015 as she began leading a research forum of people doing their dissertations. Like most online students, she said, they needed to be able “to work on their own stuff
[but] still feel like they’re not completely alone.” Without a sense of community, they weren’t learning “from each other’s mistakes and discoveries in the ways that we hoped they would.”
What was needed, she suggested, was a “synchronous online meeting” — bringing everybody together at the same time. Simple enough on the surface. Except, as with most online classrooms, this one had people in numerous time zones. So the first community-building exercise was to figure out “where and when to meet” — the connectivity part of Mullinix’s community equation. With each subsequent step in the process, the group developed a model for handling shared facilitation and development of topics and focus — the voice and choice parts.
Here are the lessons she learned and the tools that worked.4

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