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Developing a Community of Learners in Online Graduate Courses

Brian Wilson (The University of Nebraska - Lincoln, USA)
Christina Yao (University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA)
Session Information
October 16, 2015 - 9:30am
Faculty and Professional Development & Support
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Oceanic 6
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Concurrent Session 9

This presentation will highlight ways to develop a community of learners in online graduate courses

Extended Abstract

Designing online courses for graduate programs can be challenging. Graduate education requires both independent and group learning to create a community of engaged learners who are developing not only content knowledge, but who are also becoming socialized into their chosen discipline. Traditionally, much of this community building and socialization happens in face-to-face interactions with both faculty and other graduate students. Replicating these types of interactions and experiences can be very challenging when graduate programs move online. In this presentation, we will discuss some ways to better prepare students for the culture of graduate education and to socialize them in their chosen field of study by creating a vibrant community of learners in an online space.
Online learners in graduate studies often face two new realities at the start of their academic career: shifting identity into becoming graduate students and developing online course competency. We have identified three overarching problems in online graduate learning and these questions will guide our facilitation of this session:
How do we prepare graduate students for online learning who may not have prior online experience? Graduate student populations tend to be more diverse in terms of age and cultural background. What are some ways we can prepare for and address this diversity?
How do we prepare graduate students to function in a community of learners that requires active participation and community building?
How do we better socialize online graduate students into their chosen field? (e.g., practical application, graduate-level writing skills).
Establishing a strong orientation to online learning (Zieger & Pulichino, 2004) and graduate education (Austin, 2002) will provide a foundation for establishing a community of learners. Through that community of learners and with frequent interactions with the instructor, students can begin the process of becoming socialized into their field of study. After discussing the need for an early and detailed orientation program, we will share some online tools that we have found useful in facilitating asynchronous learning and community building (e.g., Catme.org, VideoANT, interactive discussion boards). Further, we will discuss design considerations that are inclusive of multicultural student populations (McLoughlin, 2999; Wang, Sierra, & Folger, 2010) as well as ways to enhance instructor presence in online classes (Shea, Swan, Li, & Pickett, 2005). As presenters, we will share our knowledge and experience on developing a strong graduate community of online learners. We will actively welcome participation from the audience as a way for all participants to share best practices for supporting online graduate learning.