Week 9: Building Online Community – Winter 2020


For the next three modules, the online facilitation is going to be completed by the learners as part of your Online Facilitation Assignment. If you are not facilitating the module this week, you will be a participant and will actively complete the module activities facilitated by your peers.

This module is going to focus on building online community, which is at the heart of creating engaging, memorable, and impactful online learning experiences. There is growing acceptance of the importance online community plays in regards to the academic success of online learners. A supportive online learning community goes a long way in helping learners feel comfortable and willing to engage fully in learning activities. Research has shown that students can increase their levels of satisfaction and the likelihood of persisting in online learning if they feel involved and develop relationships with the instructor and other members of the learning community (Jones, Kolloff & Kolloff, 2008). Feelings of isolation that are often common in the online environment can also be overcome when students join in a community of learners who support one another. Thus, online learning communities play an important role in the online environment as they can significantly impact student satisfaction, retention, and success (Palloff & Pratt, 2011). In this module, we will discuss the notion of an online community and identify strategies that are commonly used to foster community. You will also have the opportunity to identify examples of effective community building activities for the online environment.

Learning Outcomes

When you have completed this module, you should be able to:

  • Discuss the notion of an online community and identify strategies that are commonly used to foster community.
  • Identify examples of effective community building activities for the online environment.

Topic 1 – The Importance of Online Community


The notion of community has been defined in many different ways within online education. Palloff and Pratt (2007) define online learning community as a web of learning that consists of interactions among students themselves, and interactions between students and faculty. Rovai (2002) suggests that an online learning community consists of four related dimensions: (1) spirit; (2) trust; (3) interaction; and (4) commonality of learning expectations and goals. Other common characteristics of an online community include (Vesely, Bloom & Sherlock, 2007):

  1. A sense of shared purpose
  2. Establishment of boundaries defining who is a member and who is not
  3. Establishment and enforcement of rules/policies regarding community behaviour
  4. Interaction among members
  5. A level of trust, respect and support among community members

The importance of establishing a sense of community in the online environment has been clearly demonstrated within the literature, which has found a strong relationship between students’ sense of community and the positive achievement of learning outcomes and academic success in the online setting (LaRose & Whitten, 2000; Shea, Sau Li, & Pickett, 2006). It has also been found that interaction and collaboration with peers and the instructor fosters a greater sense of online community, which improves the climate in online courses and increases satisfaction with the learning process and medium (Richardson & Swan, 2003).

Topic 2 – Strategies for Developing and Fostering Online Community


It is clear that building an online learning community is important, so you might be wondering how a sense of community can be achieved in the online setting. The Community of Inquiry Framework that you were introduced to in Week 7 provides helpful guidance in this area. Cognitive presence, social presence and teaching presence are all important in helping to build community and in making the learner feel comfortable in the learning environment. A sense of community can be fostered by providing opportunities to create connections between learners, the instructor, and course content.

Teaching Presence

The should be established at the beginning of any online learning experience so that learners are aware teaching presence component of the COI framework plays a very significant role in helping to build and foster online community. According to Garrison and Cleveland-Innes (2005) teaching presence is vitally important for the creation and sustainability of a learning community. Teaching presence that the instructor is present and active in the online setting. Palloff and Pratt (2003) recommend that online facilitators ensure that they are “posting regularly, responding in a timely manner and modeling good online communication and interaction” (p. 118). Learners value facilitators who are responsive to their needs and who provide timely responses and feedback (Richardson, Koehler, Besser, Caskurlu, Lim, & Mueller, 2015). LaRose and Whitten (2000) found that when learners observe supportive teacher interactions with other learners, it motivates their own learning and encourages them to interact. Vesely, Bloom, and Sherlock (2007) also found that learners ranked instructor modeling as the most important element in building online community.

Social Presence

Social presence also significantly contributes to the development of online community as it is focused on the ability of learners to project themselves socially and emotionally into the community (Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2000). Dunlap and Lowenthal (2014) argue that there is a strong connection between learners’ comfort and sense of trust and their willingness to share and contribute to an online learning community. They experimented with a number of different strategies to establish social presence ranging from threaded discussions to personal one-on-one emails to digital stories and social networking tools including Twitter. Dunlap and Lowenthal (2014) found that the use of one-on-one emails as well as instructor bios were the two highest ranked activities by learners for creating social presence, followed closely by individualized, detailed feedback, digital storytelling; and phone calls. They recommend that instructors do the following to enhance social presence in support of student learning:

  • Provide personal, individualized feedback
  • Provide opportunities for students to build relationships through (positive) collaborative work and sharing
  • Be accessible
  • Setting the Climate

The elements of social presence and teaching presence contribute to setting the climate for the learning environment (Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2000). Parker and Herrington (2015) propose the following guidelines for setting climate in an online community of learning:

  • Create a user friendly learning environment
  • Build a positive rapport
  • Engender a sense of belonging
  • Promote a sense of purpose to assist student learning

Thormann and Fidalgo (2014) offer a similar set of guidelines based on student perceptions of what elements they think are key in building community online:

  • Create an environment that allows students to share, take risks feel safe & respected.
  • Include some synchronous interaction and group assignments
  • Model interactions and ask thought-provoking/probing questions
  • Be familiar with course material and shape the course to promote and extend learning among students
  • Use introductory/ice-breaker assignments
  • Be prepared for time consuming, hard work
  • Promote student engagement, allow unique perspectives and give timely feedback
  • Share teaching responsibilities with students and consciously build community
  • Use communication and collaboration tools and facilitate personal connections
  • Provide course guidelines, objectives and expectations.

Online Readings/Videos

The group that is facilitating the module this week will select from the following online readings and videos to provide to the learners:



Learning Activities

Assessment #2 – Online Lesson Facilitation Assignment (25%)

Refer to the Assignments Overview to complete Assignment #2.

The group that is facilitating the module this week will select one activity from the following to facilitate:

Learning Activity 1 – Online Learning Community Concept Map

In this activity, you will facilitate the creation of a concept map encouraging students to interpret their online community and to outline some of the key strategies that can be used to build community in the online environment along with any educational technology supports.

Learning Activity 2 – Community Building Strategy

In this activity, you will facilitate the creation of an online community building strategy that students can use within their own teaching and learning practice and you will encourage students to develop a community building activity for their own purposes For example, student could create an orientation/welcome message or video, an ice-breaker activity, etc.

Learning Activity 3 – Community Building Analysis

In this activity, you will facilitate the examination of the online course that students are using for the Online Course Audit Assignment and will encourage students to look for examples of effective community building activities and educational technology supports. You will facilitate the sharing of one activity by the student and discussion of whether or not it was effective in fostering a sense of community within the group.

Feedback Activity

Students that were not facilitating this week will be asked to provide constructive feedback to the week’s facilitators. One strategy that you can use to provide feedback is the “I Like, I Wish, What If” method. Using this method, you can provide open feedback by providing three types of statements for your peers (Stanford University Institute of Design, 2016):

  • “I Like…” statements convey the aspects that you liked about the online facilitation
  • “I Wish…” statements share ideas about how the online facilitation could potentially be enhanced or modified
  • “What if…” statements express new suggestions for the online facilitation that might open up possibilities for new ideas that your peer can explore

Another strategy you can use for peer feedback of online facilitation is a Feedback Capture Grid, which includes four quadrants to note your likes, wishes, questions and ideas. You can use the following template to guide your feedback if you chose to use this method.

Post your feedback in the appropriate discussion forum.

Reflection Activity

Students that were facilitating this week will be asked to complete a “ FLIF ” ( F eel, L ike, I mprove, F eedback) reflection (Adapted from Facilitating Learning Online – Fundamentals, 2018).

When complete, please post your FLIF in the appropriate discussion forum.


This module focused on building online community, which is a key component of successful online learning experiences. The establishment of a learning community has been shown to contribute to the satisfaction, retention, and success of online learners, and to reduce feelings of isolation. The Community of Inquiry framework is a useful model for exploring community, as teaching, social, and cognitive presence all have the potential to contribute to the development and maintenance of a learning community online.


Carleton University. (2017). Developing an online community [Video file]. Retrieved from “https://mediaspace.carleton.ca/media/Developing+an+Online+Community/0_0918f2ax”

Dunlap, J.C., & Lowenthal, P.R. (2014). The power of presence: Our quest for the right mix of social presence in online courses. In A.P. Mizell & A. A. Piña (Eds.) Real life distance education: Case studies in practice . Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing. Retrieved from “http://patricklowenthal.com/publications/The_power_of_presence–our_quest_for_the_right_mix_of_social_presence_in_online_courses.pdf”

Facilitating Learning Online – Fundamentals. (2018). Planning & Facilitating your Session. Retrieved from “https://oer.royalroads.ca/moodle/mod/page/view.php?id=1106”

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education model. The Internet and Higher Education , 2(2-3), 87-105.

Garrison, D. R. & Cleveland-Innes, M. (2005). Facilitating Cognitive Presence in Online Learning: Interaction is not enough. American Journal of Distance Education , 19 (3), 133-148.

Jones, P., Kolloff, M. & Kolloff, F. (2008). Students’ perspectives on humanizing and establishing teacher presence in an online course . In K. Mc Ferrin et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of society for information technology and teacher education international conference 2008 (pp. 460- 465). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

LaRose, R., & Whitten, P. (2000). Re‐thinking instructional immediacy for web courses: A social cognitive exploration. Communication Education , 49 (4), 320-338.

Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (2003). The virtual student: A profile and guide to working with online learners . John Wiley & Sons.

Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (2007). Building online learning communities: Effective strategies for the virtual classroom . John Wiley & Sons.

Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (2011). The Excellent Online Instructor: Strategies for Professional Development . San Francisco: Jossey – Bass.

Parker, J., & Herrington, J. (2015). Setting the climate in an authentic online community of learning. Australia Association for Research in Education Conference , 1-12. Retrieved from “https://www.aare.edu.au/data/2015_Conference/Full_papers/140_Jenni_Parker.pdf”

Richardson, J.C., & Swan, K. (2003). Examining social presence in online courses in relation to students’ perceived learning and satisfaction. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks , 7 (1). Retrieved from “http://www.aln.org/publications/jaln/v7n1/index.asp”

Richardson, J. C., Koehler, A. A., Besser, E. D., Caskurlu, S., Lim, J., & Mueller, C. M. (2015). Conceptualizing and investigating instructor presence in online learning environments. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning , 16 (3). Retrieved from “http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/2123”

Rovai, A. (2002). Building sense of community at a distance. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 3 (1). Retrieved from “http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/viewFile/79/153”

Shea, P., Li, C. S., & Pickett, A. (2006). A study of teaching presence and student sense of learning community in fully online and web-enhanced college courses. The Internet and Higher Education , 9 (3), 175-190.

Stanford University Institute of Design. (2016). “Bootcamp Bootleg” Retrieved from http://dschool-old.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/METHODCARDS-v3-slim.pdf

Thormann, J., & Fidalgo, P. (2014). Guidelines for online course moderation and community building from a student’s perspective. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching , 10 (3), 374. Retrieved from “http://jolt.merlot.org/vol10no3/Thorman_0914.pdf”

University of Saskatchewan. (2012). Maintaining Community in Online Courses [Video file]. Retrieved from “https://youtu.be/byCIa1Rw7tg”

Vesely, P., Bloom, L., & Sherlock, J. (2007). Key elements of building online community: Comparing faculty and student perceptions. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching , 3 (3), 234-246. Retrieved from “http://jolt.merlot.org/vol3no3/vesely.pdf”

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