Creating an Online Community in MOOC's

A massive open online course (MOOC) can use several tools to educate college students. Unfortunately, many online courses forget about the importance of community. Students attending classes on campus automatically get to participate in a community. Online classes that want to offer a higher educational experience need to find ways to create communities where students and instructors can ask questions, provide feedback and hold conversations.

Establish More Than a Discussion Forum

Discussion forums create the social aspect easily found in classrooms. Establishing a discussion forum, however, is not enough to build a community of learners. Many educators find they get better results by pairing discussion forums with groups on social media sites like:

• Facebook

• GoodReads

• Reddit

Creating smaller groups on these separate platforms make discussions more manageable while participating in a class with thousands of people.

Teach Students How to Use Existing Tools

Instructors should not assume that students already know how to use forums and groups. Course developers need to teach students how to use these tools so they can perform simple tasks like:

• Creating profiles

• Posting messagesbull

• Answering questions

• Citing references

Instructors also need to teach students how to conduct themselves during discussions. Students cannot adopt the same language they use on Facebook. They need to know how to think before they type so they contribute worthwhile ideas instead of knee-jerk, potentially offensive reactions that can undermine a community.

Create an IRL Community

Some MOOC’s already encourage students to meet in the real world. Expect this to become one of the most successful 2015 trends.
IRL study groups can offer several advantages. Building local communities gives students a chance to meet and discuss material face-to-face. This can open MOOC’s to a whole new type of learner who does not believe he or she can benefit from online courses.

Study groups also encourage students to share ideas that are too complex to type into a discussion forum. Talking out loud helps students brainstorm without committing their thoughts to publication on a forum. Suddenly, an open exchange of ideas becomes more possible.

Use Encouraging Language

Creating discussion forums, social media groups and IRL study groups does not necessarily mean that students will participate. Instructors need to use encouraging language that nudges students into the community. Some instructors make participation mandatory. Others use inclusive language that makes students more likely to get involved.

How an instructor uses pronouns, for instance, could affect whether students use the forum. “I will be posting…” does not ask anything of students. “We will be posting…” includes everyone and makes it obvious that groups exist for student participation.

Some educators believe that MOOC’s will soon offer the same level of education as universities. Online classes, however, will come without the massive debt that students accumulate while earning degrees on campus. Before we make this fantasy a reality, we need to develop better tools that will turn massive online courses to inclusive communities of learners.

Higher Ed, Best Practices

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