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Create a Warm and Inviting Atmosphere to Build a Learning Community

Module by: Larry Ragan. E-mail the author

Summary: This module focuses on strategies for building a learning community in an online teaching environment. This module is part of the Best Practices in Online Teaching Course created by Penn State University World Campus as a guide for faculty who are new to teaching in an online environment.

What to do?

Figure 1: Photo by Maciek PELC, Terrace in Choragwica, from stock.xchng, http://www.sxc.hu/photo/812888
Figure 1 (graphics1.jpg)
Distance learners can feel isolated, especially at the beginning of a course. Effective online instructors understand this and employ strategies to overcome this isolation through building a learning community.

How to do it?

  • Welcome students before the course begins by sending a course email or posting a course announcement. (See Example 1)
  • Resend welcome email to new students after drop/add period
  • Post a personal introduction about yourself (See Example 2)
  • Write in an informal tone (See Example 3)
  • Provide lots of encouragement and support, especially in the beginning of the course. (For more information about providing support, please see Provide Feedback and Support module)
  • Incorporate the "human touch"
  • Commend students privately by email
  • Encourage students to create their own homepage, or post a short self-introduction to the discussion forum, or set up a “user profile”
  • Encourage students to develop some social space by creating a group inside or outside of the course site
  • Upload your picture and encourage students to upload their pictures to the CMS

Example 1: Welcome Email

Welcome to HLS 410!

This is one of the foundation courses in Penn State's Masters degree and certificate programs in Homeland Security.

To get started, click the Lessons tab above and work through the material in the Course Orientation folder. That will get you oriented to the course, the Angel environment, and the university's academic integrity policies. You can also review a high level course overview by clicking the Syllabus tab above.

We are looking forward to a stimulating, engaging, and collaborative learning experience in the course.

Again, welcome!

Example 2: Meet the Instructor's Page

From RUS 100, Summer 06

Instructor Photo

Galina Khmelkova

S408 Burrowes

Tel: 814-863-7486

Email: Use ANGEL mail system for course mail. I will respond to your emails within 24 hours

Office Hours: Mondays 2:00-4:00 pm and Thursdays 4:00-6:00 pm

I will be available by phone or in the ANGEL chat room at these times.

Zdravstvujte! Hello everyone!

Let me introduce myself. My name is Galina Andreevna Khmelkova. Don't be surprised by reading such a strange name. I am Russian and in Russia especially when we address a teacher, professor or elder person we don't know, we use this combination of the first name, patronymic and last name. The patronymic name is formed from the father's name with the help of suffixes. My patronymic name means that my father's name was Andrei.

I was born in Volgograd, the city, which played a very important role during WWII. At that time my city was called Stalingrad. Before the city got this name it was Tsaritsin. One can find the similarity with St. Petersburg, which also had different names: Petrograd, Leningrad and then the original name was returned.

I studied in Moscow at the Peoples' Friendship University, and to tell you honestly that was the best period in my life. My specialization was philology and Russian as a second language.

After graduation I worked in Laos where I taught the Russian language for three years. Then I returned to Volgograd and started to work at the Department for Foreign Students of the Pedagogical Institute. I have taught students from several different countries and continents. I was sent to work as an Instructor of Russian in Slovakia where I stayed for two years. And it so happened that I came to USA on an exchange program in August 1991 and still work here at Penn State at the Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures (with a year and a half break because of the INS rules).

I have been teaching this course on Russian Culture and Civilization for several years, but this is only the third time it has been offered online. That means that we may still have some problems. I know that some of you are taking an online course for the first time. So let's work and learn together to make our course interesting and useful. I'll be glad to answer any question you have about Russia.

Udachi! Good luck!

Example 3: Weekly Email to Students - From PSY 451, Summer 06

Weekly Email to Students - From PSY 451, Summer 06

Hi, 451'ers. I hope that you're able to enjoy some of the summer weather, in between your 451 tasks and other work/classes! Our family had a nice time at Sesame Place (a Sesame Street theme park in Langhorne, PA) and visiting relatives.

I've had a chance to review last week's discussion, and I'm really impressed, in general, with the thought and tactfulness of most posts and replies. If you have completed your participation in 4 discussions, congrats! If not, keep up the good work! I will grade the group movie assignments in the next couple of days. Nearly every group selected Remember the Titans, so I'll likely grade those first.

As for this week, you get to examine another of the most interesting leadership topics: transformational leadership. It's neat to compare and contrast transformational and transactional leadership, etc. You have less reading this week (although the quiz will still be 20 questions) in part so that you can work on your group's interviewing. I would be happy to review any group's interview questions in advance of the interviews, as long as you give me some lead time. The group project will be here before you know it, so interview your folks ASAP!!!

Also, you have the MLK Letter from Birmingham Jail assignment to work on. Be sure to cite specific portions of the source, apply various concepts related to transformational leadership, and proofread your papers prior to submitting them. I've been happy with the quality of most individual assignments, but these qualities tend to distinguish responses that earn 100% from those that only earn partial credit.

Keep these tips in mind as you look ahead to next week's case - the Personal Experience Paper. I'm sure that you probably have been relating many of the leadership theories/approaches to experiences that you've had personally. This paper will be your opportunity to write up your application of 3 theories/approaches to your own life. The paper is worth 50 points and should be 4-5 pages long, so I'd suggest putting some thought into it this week and then writing it up next week.

That's about it... enjoy your week and let me know if you have any questions,

Dr. L

Voices of Experience

To hear insights from experienced online instructors about preparing for online teaching, access any or all of the following interviews. Please make sure your audio is enabled.

Jonathan Mathews

Figure 2
Figure 2 (jonathanmathews.jpg)
Figure 3
Mathews - Background (mp3)
Media File: MathewsBackground.mp3
Figure 4
Mathews - Suggestions for New Instructors (mp3)
Media File: MathewsSuggestionsNewnstructors.mp3
Figure 5
Mathews - Managing Expectations (mp3)
Media File: mmanage.mp3

Alfred Turgeon

Figure 6
Figure 6 (altugeon.jpg)
Figure 7
Alfred Turgeon - Advice for New Faculty (Interviewed by Larry Ragan) (mp3)
Media File: aadvice.mp3
Figure 8
Alfred Turgeon - Skills Needed for Online Teaching (Interviewed by Larry Ragan) (mp3)
Media File: askills.mp3

Why do it?

"It is always important to remember that in the online environment, we present ourselves in text. Because it is a flat medium, we need to make an extra effort to humanize the environment. In the face-to-face classroom, students have the opportunity to get to know one another as people--before or after class, during classroom discussions, and in other campus locations such as the student lounge. In the online environment, we need to create these opportunities more purposefully" (Palloff & Pratt, 2001, p. 32).

Reference:

Palloff, R.M., & Pratt, K. (2001). Lessons from the cyberspace classroom: The realities of online teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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Definition of a lens

Lenses

A lens is a custom view of the content in the repository. You can think of it as a fancy kind of list that will let you see content through the eyes of organizations and people you trust.

What is in a lens?

Lens makers point to materials (modules and collections), creating a guide that includes their own comments and descriptive tags about the content.

Who can create a lens?

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Definition of a lens

Lenses

A lens is a custom view of the content in the repository. You can think of it as a fancy kind of list that will let you see content through the eyes of organizations and people you trust.

What is in a lens?

Lens makers point to materials (modules and collections), creating a guide that includes their own comments and descriptive tags about the content.

Who can create a lens?

Any individual member, a community, or a respected organization.

What are tags? tag icon

Tags are descriptors added by lens makers to help label content, attaching a vocabulary that is meaningful in the context of the lens.

| External bookmarks