Here are four strategies that can be used to encourage peer-to-peer, student-to-student engagement and thus the building of a course community. An online instructor should develop three types of presence: social presence, teaching presence, and cognitive/content presence.
- Launch the class with a personal introduction post or even a short video so that students can get to know one another and you get to know ”where students’ heads are.” The types of info often shared by faculty and students include info on professional experiences, personal information such as family/friends/pets, and a photograph. Faculty also often include a note about their teaching philosophy and research projects.
- Encourage use of a general open student forum for students to post and request help and assistance from each other through the various student-to-student tools, such as discussions, help areas, etc.
- Set up small groups where students can assume responsibility for supportive mentoring of fellow students and summarizing key points of a class assignment. The students might work in groups of 2, 3 or 4. This strategy is similar to a study group.
- Set up problem-solving forums or discussions boards, and assign students or student teams to monitor, support or direct questions.
Learning within the setting of an online course community will work better for some students than for others. Some students may choose not to participate very actively at all; other students find it is the best way for them to learn in an online setting. The point of this is that for those students who need it, it is an essential part of how they learn. Vygotsky’s theories remind us that we learn as social beings within a social context. The online community is part of what makes this happen for some students.