The Bonds That Bind: Building Collaborative Bonds in Online and Hybrid Classes | Teachers College Press
By: Linda Dale Bloomberg
Linda Dale Bloomberg serves as Associate Director of Faculty Support and Development and Full Professor at the School of Education at Northcentral University in San Diego. Dr Bloomberg received her PhD in 2006 from Teachers College, Columbia University, where she completed the AEGIS Program in Adult and Organizational Learning. His new book is called Designing and Delivering Effective Online Instruction: How to Engage Adult Learners.
As I write in my book Designing and Delivering Effective Online Education: How to Engage an Adult To learnuh, building community among learners is a fundamental inclusive teaching practice, as it helps establish and sustain a classroom climate that fosters belonging for all students. Intentionally building a community with your learners is especially important in online or hybrid courses, as these practices can help reduce the sense of isolation that students may experience due to physical distance; bring students together, foster respect and celebrate the diversity of learners as peers.
The notion of learning community is based on the value of connection and collaboration between learners and instructors, where interaction and participation is continuous, regular and focused on common goals. Shared collaborative experiences allow learners and instructors to value the views, thoughts and ideas of others, as well learn with each other. When learners feel their school environment is supportive and caring, they are more likely to develop a sense of âconnectionâ and this is associated with increased engagement.
One of the main goals is to make the online learning environment conducive to active participation by implementing strategies that will increase learner engagement not only with the course content and with the instructor, but also with his peers. Providing opportunities for students to engage with each other, co-constructing community guidelines for online engagement, and soliciting student feedback on the online environment can help create a climate that supports all learners. . Online interactive technologies, used wisely, can be used to foster meaningful interactivity, social bonds and community. To create a collaborative environment that encourages and fosters a learning community, it is a thoughtful facilitation from the instructor which will pave the way for quality interaction and connections.
Facilitate group work and collaboration
The following activities can contribute to a greater sense of belonging among learners by connecting them to a larger learning community:
Asynchronous Discussion Forums
Discussion forums (sometimes called âdiscussion boardsâ) are an important part of online courses, facilitating communication and interaction as learners ask questions and respond to discussion prompts. The asynchronous format removes technical barriers and ensures that learners are able to engage with their peers in a discussion-based classroom at a time of their choosing. Discussion forums can be used with small group activities, replacing research-based homework with opinion pieces, and incorporating thought-provoking topics. To generate increased interaction, you can consider assigning specific roles so that learners have more responsibility and autonomy, and also serve to build a sense of community. For example, they can “play a role” as particular types of respondents, or you can ask them to take on specific tasks, such as being a summarizer, a respondent, or a link to outside resources. Overall, be sure to closely monitor conversations, making sure the discussion is useful, relevant, appropriate, and the tone of the conversation is inclusive and respectful.
As an alternative to asynchronous chats, consider offering your learners the ability to interact synchronously with their peers. That way, they can move away from standard written responses and engage in a real-time conversation. It’s also a good way to satisfy those who prefer the spontaneity and organic nature of face-to-face discussions. There are many online collaboration tools that can be leveraged for the purpose of bringing learners together and fostering a sense of community, such as online productivity suites and social media platforms. Your LMS will no doubt also offer course-specific applications, giving you a variety of ways to build community by connecting learners with others who have similar interests or who are working on common projects. Be thoughtful and proactive by encouraging meaningful interaction and providing appropriate and supportive advice. Make sure to register several minutes before your class and greet learners when they arrive. This period of time before the start of the course provides an opportunity for informal peer interaction and community building. Many synchronous tools currently available include virtual “chat rooms” which can be used to create additional learner-learner interaction for reflection or sharing or team exercises.
Making the writing process more collaborative provides learners with opportunities to learn from each other and helps them make connections, thereby fostering a learning community. Studies have shown that even strong writers benefit from the peer review process, with learners reporting that they learn as much or more by identifying and articulating weaknesses in a peer review as they do by incorporating feedback. peers in their own work (van Popta et al., 2017). The opportunities to participate in a peer review, when well planned, can help your learners improve their reading and writing skills and learn to collaborate effectively; thus learning with each other. Specifically, participating in the peer review process can help learners to read attentively, to clarify their own ideas when formulating questions about their fellow students’ writing, to learn to reinforce their writing taking into account feedback they receive. See peer review as an opportunity to identify and teach these skills and allow learners to practice by guiding and supporting them through the peer review process. By creating an explicit peer review plan, you can provide your learners with the necessary instructions and guidance to provide each other with useful and substantive feedback. In my book Designing and Delivering Effective Online Education: How to Engage an Adult To learnuh, I offer guidelines for conducting effective peer reviews.
Peer Dialogue Reviews
Journaling is a way for learners to reflect on new knowledge learned in the classroom, consolidate their learning experience, and formulate new opinions and perspectives. Additionally, research shows that learners who reflect on their writing processes and decisions can essentially become more capable and cautious critics of their own work (Stevens & Cooper, 2009). Used as an educational strategy, the ideas and awareness generated by peer-to-peer dialogue journals take learning and critical thinking one step further by exploring collaborative learning experiences, thereby fostering connection and community (Bloomberg, 2005). In this type of journaling activity, two or more learners work collaboratively as âthinking partnersâ on issues related to the course material and âspeak through their writingâ. In this way, journaling of peer-to-peer dialogue becomes a learning tool that encourages engagement and connection by promoting reflection and dialogue (Bloomberg, 2005). By using effective prompts in the form of critical questions related to course content, you can provide your learners with a springboard to critical thinking and reflection, paving the way for deeper learning and meaningful insights. In my book Designing and Delivering Effective Online Education: How to Engage an Adult To learnuh, I offer guidelines for conducting effective peer journaling.
Lock in your learning!
In the online environment, social belonging and a sense of community are associated with increased engagement and motivation. The development of a learning community has been at the heart of distance education since its inception, and the need to foster community in the online environment remains a central issue. By implementing specific strategies, you will increase learner engagement not only with the course content, but also with peers. It’s a thoughtful facilitation from the instructor which will pave the way for the quality and meaning of interactions and connections.
Consider the following
- Do you make an effort to connect learners with each other by pointing them in the appropriate directions?
- Do you explain to learners the value and benefits of being part of a learning community?
- What tools do you use to build community and foster collaborative learning?
- What more can YOU do to raise the bar for collaborative learning?
Bloomberg, LD (2005). Distance learning: creating connected communities through peer-to-peer dialogue reviews. Perspectives: The New York Journal of Adult Learning, 3, 2, 33-44. http://www.transformationed.com/journal/perspectivesonlinevol3.2.html
Bloomberg, LD (2021). Designing and Delivering Effective Online Education: How to Engage Adult Learners. Teachers College Press, Columbia University. https://www.tcpress.com/designing-and-delivering-effective-online-instruction-9780807765289
This publication has been nominated for the 2021 Division of Distance Learning (DDL) of the Association of Educational Communications and Technology (AECT), one of the leading international organizations for instructional design and ed-tech.
Stevens, D., & Cooper, J. (2009). Journaling: How to Use Reflective Writing for Effective Learning, Teaching, Professional Insight, and Positive Change. Style.
van Popta E., Kral, M., Camp, G., Martens, RL and Simons, PR (2017). Explore the value of peer feedback in e-learning for the provider. Review of Educational Resources, 20, 24-30.
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