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A Path in the Wilderness: Helping Faculty and Students Overcome Isolation in Online Learning

John Vivolo (NYU-Poly, USA)
Session Information
November 20, 2013 - 1:30pm
Student Services and Learner Support
Areas of Special Interest: 
Institutional Initiatives
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Institutional Level: 
Multiple Levels
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Europe 8
Session Duration: 
35 Minutes
Information Session 3

Isolation is the dirty secret of online learning. Students and faculty, however, can overcome these obstacles and work to create a community of online learners.

Extended Abstract

Description and Goals:

Through technology, we are more connected as a society. However, we are also more isolated. The dirty secret of online learning is that both faculty and students can, and do, often become inflicted with feelings of isolation. It's okay to admit it. For thousands of years, we have had students and faculty together in the same room. They make eye contact, hear each other clearly, and talk to each other. As a species dependent on interaction and a desire to build communities, it is no wonder isolation appears when you strip away the "in-person" community. This feeling is not the sole infliction of students, but also faculty. Think about it for a moment. Both faculty and students have spent their academic and professional careers with a live audience. Suddenly, it is stripped away and they are left alone in their homes and/or offices. Do not lose heart or confidence in online learning. There is hope for both student and faculty.

This presentation will offer methods for students (and faculty) to adjust to learning from a distance. Both the institution and faculty can assist students with this adjustment in the form of technical and pedagogical advice, and even lifestyle changes.

Questions to be addressed:

  • What impact does this isolation have on the ability for the student to learn and the faculty to teach?
  • Is it possible to create peer-to-peer learning and create a learning community? (Even in a math-heavy course)
  • How do faculty and students adapt to the "lifestyle" of learning/working from home?
  • Can students work in groups online and still achieve the sense of learning community with their fellow remote students?
  • How can the faculty (and university) create a learning community with remote students?
  • Can the "performance" aspect of teaching be captured in an online course?


Pre-Course Goal (students): Prepare students for learning in an online environment before taking their first online course. This will include information on orientation session (webinars), student orientation page, using social media to share "Tips for Online Learning", and other methods for creating a learning community of online students. (This will include examples and results from NYU-Poly student support and orientation efforts).

Pre-Couse Goal (faculty): Prepare faculty for teaching in an online environment, including the loss of the "performance" aspect of teaching. This will include advice for adding the "performance" of teaching back into online learning. (This will include examples and results from NYU-Poly online courses).

During Course (students): Use multiple technology and pedagogy approaches to promote engagement between students, including peer-to-peer learning groups, group presentations, and synchronous (real time) tools. (This will include examples and results from NYU-Poly online courses).

Engagement (during presentation): The last 10-15 minutes of the presentation will be reserved for Q&A; however, I would prefer audience members to share their experiences with online learning isolation (from their student's experience and their own experience teaching online).

Materials Provided: Results of student and faculty survey on online isolation. Examples of social media "Tips for Online Learning" program.

Lead Presenter

John Vivolo is the Director of Online and Virtual Learning. John partners with faculty to devise a set of pedagogical and technical practices often known as Best Practices for Online Learning. Working to create a rich and interactive learning experience, John also researches new methods and technologies to incorporate into online learning.

For over seven years, John taught both fully online and Blended Learning courses. In addition, John has hosted numerous faculty seminars and workshops in online learning. During this time, he has trained faculty in both the eLearning technology as well as how to effectively implement these technologies into online courses. John has a Master's in English from the City University of New York.