Creating Online Learning Communities

Online Learning Communities

Business Management instructor talks about improving online teaching skills

Creating online learning communities

by Harold Torrence, Ed.D

In our Business Management program at Dakota County Technical College, online learning has become a prevalent and preferred alternative for students in recent years. We offer both hybrid (online-enhanced classroom) and online courses—and in fall semester 2014, our online courses filled up faster than our hybrid courses.

Several reasons might explain this new trend; one might be that our adult learners represent a larger percentage of our student population. Our adult learners are trying to reinvent themselves by enhancing their employability skills while pursuing a college experience and degree. Online learning offers an excellent option to balance learning, living, working and surviving in this ever-changing workplace environment.

During my eight years teaching online courses, I’ve found that many things have changed. Experience has shown me that online teaching requires a completely different set of teaching skills. A cornerstone of my teaching is based on shaping a sense of learning together as a community in the classroom so that students can be co-participants in the social construction of knowledge, skills and abilities.

As a facilitator of transformation, I find that I have an easier time igniting the fire and passion for lifelong learning when I’m standing in the physical classroom. When it comes to the online classroom, conveying this message can be challenging. I have tried using different tools to establish the strongest human connection possible. Below are some of the practices I have incorporated in my online teaching to develop online learning communities.

The traditional online discussion forum is where students find commonalities and are able to learn from one another. From the instructor’s standpoint, replying to more than 200 postings per week per class can be almost impossible. Another teaching dilemma centers on finding a way to reply to a limited number of students without creating a sense of favoritism in the virtual classroom.

I had to find a better way to show my students that I was not only reading their postings, but also able to provide the appropriate feedback they required. Five years ago at a faculty meeting, one of our adjunct instructors showed us how to use Adobe Connect to set online meetings, which provided a huge opportunity to change how I taught online. I moved from static, online-recorded lectures to dynamic, live webinars. From that moment on, I started incorporating non-mandatory (magic words) weekly webinars for extra credit. All of a sudden, retention rates in my online courses improved considerably.

In my webinar videos, I can show my face to my students, which is a key first step in forging the human connection. Webinars are my preferred way to explain the syllabus, give assignments and lectures, and showcase excellent student work. Adobe Connect has the ability to record everything live, and I am able to post the hyperlink in multiple places in our online learning platform as well as e-mail the link to my students soon after the webinar closes.

Webinars have enhanced the online learning experience in my classes. Below are comments I received from my students in a recent fall class:

“I really appreciate being able to access the link and watch the webinar during the week. I’m the type of learner that really benefits from hearing in addition to reading the material, and the webinars will be a great tool to use during this course.”

“I wasn’t able to participate in the webinar, but I was able to watch the recording. Not only was it useful to go through what was expected in this class, but your review of the PowerPoint was also very informative.”

“I also appreciated being able to watch the webinar and I think that these webinars will be a great tool to help with clarifying and supporting the weekly lessons.”

In my webinars, I always remind my students about the importance of learning from one another and how their individual contributions help shape strong learning communities. I also use this time to connect with their online discussion participation and include their examples in my lectures. This makes learning relevant and applicable to their knowledge construction process.

Individual and ongoing feedback are critical elements of success for online learners. I have been able to improve my feedback delivery by adding rubrics and oral comments to each assignment in their corresponding drop boxes. Students learn how they are performing both promptly and as often as possible. They know what I expect from them and what they need to do to improve.

Continuing to share our online teaching and learning practices is vitally important. I have been able to learn a lot from my peers on both the DCTC and Inver Hills campuses. I believe this should be a more intentional endeavor. True professional learning communities offer a great opportunity to enhance our online teaching skills in our search to improve our student online learning retention and success. Let’s continue sharing what we learn.

About the author…
Harold Torrence, Ed.D

Dr. Harold Torrence is a Business Management instructor. His areas of focus are the Business Administration A.S. degree, the Business Management A.A.S. degree, the Multicultural Leadership Diploma, Multicultural Supervision certificate and the Occupational Spanish program.

Dr. Torrence holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from UNITEC, or Universidad Tecnológica del Centro. He also holds both a Masters of Arts in Management and a Master in Public Administration from Hamline University. In 2012, he earned a Doctorate in Education from Hamline University. (read more…)

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