Building a sense of community in an online environment is beneficial for students that want to feel connected to other learners. When students feel they are part of a community they interact with each other and feel connected to other participants which helps them form a sense of identity to their work, products, or each other. Research by Maxwell and Shackelford (2012) study which online activities within a classroom builds a sense of community.
An online sense of community can be defined as, “a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together” (McMillan & Chavis, 1986, p. 9). Students feel a sense of identity and often share similarities in goals.
Engaged students have something called cognitive presence. Cognitive presence develops when people have sustained communication and they can collaborate to explore, construct, confirm, understand and resolve content (Garrison, 2007). They are actively engaged in working together to understand a problem, its parts, and solutions.
Students will also need social presence. Social presence is “the ability of participants in a community of inquiry to project themselves socially and emotionally, as ‘real’ people, through the medium of communication being used” (Garrison, et. al., 2000, p. 94). The tools should allow for them to reflect their identity into the online classroom.
The researchers obtained 381 surveys through the courses of 110 professors to obtain their data. They found that certain activities offered higher levels of community building. This includes introductions, collaborative group projects, contributing personal experiences, entire class online discussions and exchanging resources. The order starts with the most beneficial. Students appear to need to know each other, work with each other, and share with each other.
Garrison, et. al. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment. Computer Conference in Higher Education, 2.
Garrison, D. (2007). Online community of inquiry review: Social, cognitive, and teaching presence issues. Journal of Asynchronous Learning networks, 11 (1).
Maxwell, M. & Shackelford, J. (2012). Sense of community in graduate online education: contribution of learner to learner interaction. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13 (4).
McMillian, D. & Chavis, D. (1986). Sense of community: a definition and theory. Journal of Community Psychology, Psychological Sense of Community, I: Theory and Concepts, 14 (1).