Recreating Classroom Communities Online

Windle, Peter (2021) Recreating Classroom Communities Online.


In the realm of community interaction on an online programme “alienation with society can exert a dampening effect on sense of community within a virtual classroom environment and can possibly lead to low student achievement and student attrition” (Rovai & Wighting, 2005). In their 2014 study on MOOC completion rates, Khalil & Ebner concluded feelings of isolation and the lack of interactivity were factors in students’ decision to drop out of online courses.

On the Higher Diploma in Computer Science, WIT’s award winning first fully online programme, we have identified minor incidences of students not engaging on the community platform of choice, Slack, from the beginning of the semester. We have also noted a higher percentage of these students dropping out within the first semester of the programme. Rosell (2018) states “learning communities play a significant role in ensuring that students remain motivated to succeed”.

In this unprecedented time, it is essential that we maintain a sense of community, especially in our virtual classrooms. “A community exists when its members experience a sense of belonging or personal relatedness...the community has a shared and emotional sense of connection” (Osterman, 2000) which is a fundamental part of our learning experience.

Anecdotally, informal learning networks such as Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger groups are already in place across existing student cohorts. Unfortunately students who started in September 2020 did not have the same opportunities to build a learning community, provide peer support and build friendships as those who went before them.

It is therefore incumbent upon the education institutions to provide the same structures and supports for new students so that they are not disadvantaged. In this vein, it is also necessary to provide these facilities for returning students so that they can continue in the learning communities they have been part of until this point in their educational journey.

In this Gasta session we will discuss the importance of classroom communities for online programmes and give some practical tips on how you can promote online communities in your classrooms.

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