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Building Sense of Community at a Distance

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P class=abstract>This article challenges the belief that strong sense of community is limited to the traditional classroom and proposes that the virtual classroom has the potential of building and sustaining sense of community at levels that are comparable to the traditional classroom. Drawing on research literature, the concept of learning community is applied to the virtual classroom by taking on the issue of how best to design and conduct an online course that fosters community among learners who are physically separated from each other. Course design principles are described that facilitate dialogue and decrease psychological distance, thereby increasing a sense of community among learners. Key Terms Distance education, community, spirit, trust, interaction, learning, persistence, attrition, ALN, online</P
International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning
c
ISSN: 1492-3831
Vol. 3, No. 1 ( April, 2002)
Building Sense of Community at a Distance
Alfred Rovai
School of Education, Regent University, Virginia
Abstract
This article challenges the belief that strong sense of community is lim-
ited to the traditional classroom and proposes that the virtual classroom
has the potential of building and sustaining sense of community at levels
that are comparable to the traditional classroom. Drawing on research
literature, the concept of learning community is applied to the virtual
classroom by taking on the issue of how best to design and conduct an
online course that fosters community among learners who are physically
separated from each other. Course design principles are described that
facilitate dialogue and decrease psychological distance, thereby increasing
a sense of community among learners.
Key Terms
Distance education, community, spirit, trust, interaction, learning, per-
sistence, attrition, ALN, online
Background
There is growing acceptance for the view that educating students beyond the
campus is a major element of a university’s mission (Harris, 1999). This view
is sustained by the enhanced capacity for efficient and widespread use of dis-
tance education through advanced electronic delivery systems. Many schools are
moving rapidly toward the use of technology to deliver courses and programs
at a distance. Several distance education models are presently in use, such as
broadcast television, video and audio teleconferencing, and asynchronous learn-
ing networks (ALNs). Learners use computers and communications technologies
in ALNs to work with remote learning resources, including online content, as
well as instructors, and other learners, but without the requirement to be on-
line at the same time. Arguably, the most common ALN communication tool
is the World Wide Web used in conjunction with e-learning software such as
Blackboard or WebCT, providing students and instructors electronic access to
course materials, grades, activities, and communication options such as discus-
sion boards, email, and chat rooms.
One area of concern is that dropout rates tend to be higher in distance edu-
cation programs than in traditional face-to-face programs. Carr (2000) noted
Building Sense of Community at a Distance 2
that dropout rates are often 10 to 20 percentage points higher in distance ed-
ucation courses than in traditional courses. She also reported significant vari-
ation among institutions, with some post-secondary schools reporting course-
completion rates of more than 80 percent, while others report fewer than 50
percent of distance education students finish their courses. There are a number
of well-documented reasons for some dropouts, including the fact that adults
sometimes only register for a course in order to obtain knowledge, not credit,
and may therefore drop the course once they obtain the knowledge they desire.
The physical separation of students in programs offered at a distance may also
contribute to higher dropout rates. Such separation has a tendency to re-
duce the sense of community, giving rise to feelings of disconnection (Kerka,
1996), isolation, distraction, and lack of personal attention (Besser & Donahue,
1996; Twigg, 1997), which could affect student persistence in distance education
courses or programs. Tinto (1993) emphasized the importance of community in
reducing dropouts when he theorized that students will increase their levels of
satisfaction and the likelihood of persisting in a college program if they feel in-
volved and develop relationships with other members of the learning community.
The importance of community is supported by empirical research. Wehlage,
Rutter and Smith (1989) found that traditional schools with exemplary dropout-
prevention programs devoted considerable attention to overcoming the barriers
that prevented students from connecting with the school and to developing a
sense of belonging, membership, and engagement. The key finding of their re-
port is that effective schools provide students with a supportive community. In
a study of adult learners in a worksite GED program, Vann and Hinton (1994)
found that 84 percent of completers belonged to class cliques, whereas 70 per-
cent of dropouts were socially isolated. As a final example, Ashar and Skenes
(1993) found in a higher education business program that by creating a social
environment that motivated adult learners to persist, social integration had a
significant positive effect on retention. They found that learning needs alone
appeared strong enough to attract adults to the program, but not to retain
them.
Interest in community is not limited to the field of education. The past few
decades have witnessed increased interest in the concept of community in gen-
eral. Much of this interest is based on the perception that sense of community
in the United States is weak and there is a need to get American citizens to
think about working together toward the common good (Etzioni, 1993). John
Goodlad of the University of Washington, head of the Institute for Educational
Renewal (1997), echoed these sentiments when he quoted an editorial from the
1990 issue of the Holistic Education Review:
Our culture does not nourish that which is best or noblest in the
human spirit. It does not cultivate vision, imagination, or aesthetic
or spiritual sensitivity. It does not encourage gentleness, generosity,
caring, or compassion. Increasingly in the late twentieth century,
International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning
Building Sense of Community at a Distance 3
the economic-technocratic-static worldview has become a monstrous
destroyer of what is loving and life-affirming in the human soul. (p.
125)
Research provides evidence that strong feelings of community may not only
increase persistence in courses, but may also increase the flow of information
among all learners, availability of support, commitment to group goals, cooper-
ation among members, and satisfaction with group efforts (Bruffee, 1993; Dede,
1996; Wellman, 1999). Additionally, learners benefit from community member-
ship by experiencing a greater sense of well being and by having an agreeable
set of individuals to call on for support when needed (Walker, Wasserman &
Wellman, 1994; Wellman & Gulia, 1999). Royal and Rossi (1996) suggest that
learners’ sense of community is related to their engagement in school activities,
with students who have a higher sense of community being less likely to expe-
rience class cutting behavior or thoughts of dropping out of school and more
likely to report feeling bad when unprepared for classes. Additionally, they re-
port that students reporting a high sense of community less often feel burned
out at school.
Premise
Educators who perceive the value of social bonds in the learning process must
re-conceptualize how a sense of community can be stimulated in virtual class-
rooms, particularly in Internet-based ALN courses. Learners in these courses
are not only physically separated but interact with each other through the use
of text-based discussion boards and email, without seeing or hearing each other
and without the requirement to be online at the same time. As we will see in the
following sections, given the particularly affective nature of forming and main-
taining a sense of community, extra demands are placed on both facilitators and
learners. This notwithstanding, this article will explain how through creatively
addressing the various factors that are known to enhance the formation of a
community, a sense of community can be created in an ALN environment.
Sense of Community
Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler and Tipton (1985), in their book Habits of
the Heart, define community as follows:
A community is a group of people who are socially interdependent,
who participate together in discussion and decision making, and who
International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning
Building Sense of Community at a Distance 4
share certain practices that both define the community and are nur-
tured by it. Such a community is not quickly formed. It almost
always has a history and so is also a community of memory, defined
in part by its past and its memory of the past. (p. 333)
Additionally, McMillan and Chavis (1986) define community 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” (p. 9). Others define sense of community as a result
of interaction and deliberation by people brought together by similar interests
and common goals (Westheimer & Kahne, 1993), or as an environment in which
people interact in a cohesive manner, continually reflecting upon the work of
the group while always respecting the differences individual members bring to
the group (Graves, 1992). These definitions suggest the most essential elements
of community: mutual interdependence among members, sense of belonging,
connectedness, spirit, trust, interactivity, common expectations, shared values
and goals, and overlapping histories among members.
When community is viewed as what people do together, rather than where or
through what means they do them, community becomes separated from geog-
raphy, physical neighborhoods, and campuses (Wellman, 1999). To fully under-
stand sense of community, Rheingold (1991) and Hill (1996) call for extensive
research in a variety of contexts. They believe that the dimensions of commu-
nity differ from setting to setting suggesting that sense of community is setting
specific. One such setting is the classroom, physical or virtual. Drawing on
the definitions of community provided above, one can expect that members of
classroom communities will have feelings of belonging and trust. They will be-
lieve that they matter to one another and to the group; that they have duties
and obligations to each other and to the school; and that they possess a shared
faith that members’ educational needs will be met through their commitment
to shared goals. Accordingly, classroom community can be constitutively de-
fined in terms of four dimensions: spirit, trust, interaction, and commonality of
expectation and goals, in this case, learning.
Spirit
The first dimension, spirit, denotes recognition of membership in a community
and the feelings of friendship, cohesion, and bonding that develop among learn-
ers as they enjoy one another and look forward to time spent together. Commu-
nity spirit allows learners to challenge and to nurture each other. Learners need
to feel a sense of connectedness, to feel a part of and be included in the group
(Gibbs, 1995). In contrast, a lack of connectedness may affect the learner’s abil-
ity to cope. Non-involvement in the classroom community, according to Gibbs,
can possibly lead to feelings of loneliness, low self-esteem, isolation, and low
International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning
Building Sense of Community at a Distance 5
motivation to learn, which in turn can lead to low achievement and dropouts.
Trust
Trust, the second dimension, is the feeling that community members can be
trusted and represents a willingness to rely on other members of the community
in whom one has confidence (Moorman, Zaltman & Deshpande, 1993). Trust
consists of two components: credibility and benevolence (Doney & Cannon,
1997). The first component, credibility, is an expectation that the word of other
learners in the community can be relied on. The second component, benevo-
lence, is the extent to which learners are genuinely interested in the welfare of
other members of the community and are motivated to assist others in their
learning. With trust comes the likelihood of candor that members will feel
safe and subsequently expose gaps in their learning and feel that other mem-
bers of the community will respond in supportive ways. Without trust, the
classroom is filled mostly by the instructor’s presence. It becomes formal and
stiff and does not engender the open and caring environment needed to pro-
mote diverse and constructive interactions that empower learners to negotiate
common understandings in their quest for learning new perspectives and ideas.
As Preece (2000) points out: “When there is trust among people, relationships
flourish; without it, they wither” (p. 191).
Interaction
Interaction is the third dimension of classroom community. Learner interaction
is an essential element of, but not the full solution to, the development of a sense
of community. As May (1993) points out, “increased learner interaction is not
an inherently or self-evidently positive educational goal” (p. 47). If we cannot
fully promote sense of community through the quantity of interaction, we must
foster community through the quality of the interaction. A useful distinction in
examining the relationship of community and interaction is the categorization
of interaction by Hare and Davis (1994) as either task-driven or socio-emotional
in origin. Task-driven interaction is directed toward the completion of assigned
tasks while socio-emotionally-driven interaction is directed toward relationships
among learners. Task-driven interaction is under the direct control of the in-
structor and often takes the form of responses to instructor-generated discussion
topics and peer assessments. Factors such as student knowledge and personality,
communication patterns, reluctance to criticize, fear of criticism and retaliation,
and unwillingness to give honest feedback may negatively affect sense of com-
munity by reducing feelings of safety and trust among learners. Therefore, in
facilitating their groups, instructors need to mitigate against these factors.
In contrast, socio-emotional-driven interaction is largely self-generated. Social-
International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning
Building Sense of Community at a Distance 6
izing can take on many characteristics, from exchanging empathetic messages
(McMahon, 1997) to self-disclosure (Cutler, 1996). According to Cutler: “the
more one discloses personal information, the more others will reciprocate, and
the more individuals know about each other, the more likely they are to establish
trust, seek support, and thus find satisfaction” (p. 326). Thus increased dis-
closure of personal information can strengthen classroom community. As Tinto
(1975) observes: “Social interaction via friendship support is directly related to
persistence in college” (p. 107).
Common Expectations: Learning
Interaction among learners also supports the learning process. Learning, the
final dimension of classroom community, reflects the commitment to a common
educational purpose and epitomizes learner attitudes concerning the quality of
learning. Situated learning (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989) maintains that
learning and cognition must take account of social interaction and work. A
unifying concept emerging from situated learning research is “communities of
practice,” the concept that learning takes place through the sharing of purpose-
ful, patterned activity (Lave & Wenger, 1991). This concept stresses practice
and community equally. Learning is considered “an integral and inseparable as-
pect of social practice” within the classroom community (Lave & Wenger, 1991,
p. 31). Rather than merely adding to the student’s knowledge, learning involves
a “process of transformation of participation itself,” which occurs as a function
of all active members of the classroom community “transforming roles and un-
derstanding in the activities in which they participate” (Rogoff, 1994, p. 209).
This type of learning leads to deeper understanding of content and processes
for the community members (diSessa & Minstrell, 1998). In sum, learning rep-
resents the common purpose of the community as members of the community
grow to value learning and feel that their educational needs are being satisfied
through active participation in the community.
Learning at a Distance
Russell (1999), after cataloging over 400 students, concluded that the medium
is rarely the determining factor in learning effectiveness. Campus students tend
to perform just as well as their off-campus counterparts in the same courses.
It is course design and pedagogy that matter the most. Consequently, if sense
of community is related to learning as some research suggests, one could hy-
pothesize that the medium is rarely the determining factor in the building and
nurturing of community.
Rovai (in press) found support for this hypothesis in a study that examined
community in fourteen university courses: seven traditional face-to-face courses
International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning
Building Sense of Community at a Distance 7
and seven ALN courses presented using the Blackboard e-learning system. This
study found that feelings of classroom community were moderately related to
interactivity, thus emphasizing the importance of dialogue over structure. The
four Blackboard courses with the lowest amount of interactivity placed more
emphasis on structure than on dialogue and the weakest sense of classroom
community of all fourteen courses, significantly lower than the lowest traditional
courses, suggesting that online instructors must place emphasis on building and
nurturing sense of community. Kozma (1991) would probably characterize these
four low-community courses as mostly delivering instruction versus designing
instruction so that learners actively collaborate with the medium to construct
knowledge. However, levels of learner-learner and learner-instructor interactiv-
ity represent only one aspect of nurturing community since the coefficient of
determination in this study revealed that only 30 percent of the variance of
classroom community can be explained by changes in the number of messages
posted in course discussion boards. Clearly, other factors, such as the quality
of interaction, also influence development of sense of community.
In this particularly challenging learning environment, then, a key question be-
comes: How do learners and facilitators in a virtual classroom build and sustain
a sense of community? A review of the professional literature suggests that
many factors influence the quality of interaction and thus the sense of com-
munity within any distant learning environment. These inter-related factors,
in turn, influence course design and pedagogy. The remainder of this paper
describes and examines the following seven factors that the professional liter-
ature suggests are positive correlates to sense of community: (a) transactional
distance, (b) social presence, (c) social equality, (d) small group activities, (e)
group facilitation, (f) teaching style and learning stage, and (g) community size.
Transactional Distance
One factor is transactional distance. Moore (1993) defines transactional distance
as the psychological and communications space between learners and instruc-
tors. Transactional distance is relative and different for each person. According
to Moore, the extent of transactional distance is a function of structure and
dialogue. Structure is the amount of control exercised by the instructor in a
learning environment and additional structure tends to increase psychological
distance and decrease sense of community. Dialogue, on the other hand, is the
amount of control exercised by the learner and more dialogue tends to decrease
psychological distance and increase sense of community. By manipulating the
communications media and designing an online course to take full advantage of
these capabilities, dialogue can be increased and transactional distance reduced.
To encourage all learners to access and participate in online discussions on a
regular basis, learners should understand that course participation is not only a
course requirement, but is also a graded component of the course. Accordingly,
International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning
Building Sense of Community at a Distance 8
all members of the learning community should be graded on quantity, quality,
and timeliness of their contributions.
Social Presence
A second factor is social presence. Some instructors feel that once they design
their course and place it online their job is mostly done, that the community of
learners will take care of itself and thrive, and learning will occur. What is likely
to happen in such situations is that sense of community will whither unless the
community is nurtured and support is provided in the form of heightened aware-
ness of social presence. “Social presence in cyberspace takes on more of a com-
plexion of reciprocal awareness by others of an individual and the individual’s
awareness of others. . . to create a mutual sense of interaction that is essential
to the feeling that others are there” (Cutler, 1995, p. 18). Computer-mediated
communications are regarded as less personal and possessing diminished social
presence and social context cues when compared to face-to-face communica-
tion. As cues are fewer, social presence is lower, and as social presence goes
down so does sense of community. Consequently ALN instructors must plan on
enhancing social presence.
Social Equality
A third factor that influences the growth of community is social equality. Be-
lenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarule (1986) identify two different communi-
cation patterns that can be detected in textual communications and are threats
to social equality: (a) the separate voice, that is the separate, autonomous, or
independent path which is typical of the majority of men (and some women);
and (b) the connected voice, the relational, connected, or interdependent path,
which reflects the majority of women (and some men). This communications
model suggests that many female students place emphasis on relationships and
prefer to learn in an environment where cooperation is more valued than com-
petition. The connected voice supports classroom community building while
the separate voice does not. A threat to community occurs when one or more
students use an authoritative tone in online discussions, followed by those stu-
dents who have a more inclusive style of discourse, who feel put off and thus
reduce discussion participation. Online instructors must ensure equal opportu-
nities for participation by all students. One technique to reduce anonymity and
to help learners make connections with each other is for online instructors to
have all members of the course introduce themselves during the first week of
the course in a discussion area set aside for this purpose. Such an activity can
help maintain etiquette and civility in discussions and promote a sense of com-
munity. However, introductions during the first week will not likely do much
International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning
Building Sense of Community at a Distance 9
to change the behavior of someone with an authoritative communication style.
Such a style can dominate the tone and destroy the camaraderie of a discussion
group. Other techniques may include interjection of alternative views in a dis-
cussion thread, soliciting views from other students, or even an “offline” chat
with aggressive students.
Small Group Activities
The fourth factor is small group activities. Although too much structure can
weaken community, some structure is needed. Breaking large numbers of stu-
dents into small groups (typically under ten learners each), providing specific
tasks, and setting timelines support the concepts of situated learning and com-
munities of practice (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989). The fundamental idea
underlying small group work is that students become meaningfully engaged in
a variety of learning activities such as student or teacher led discussion groups,
debates, projects, and collaborative learning groups. Augmenting individual
learning activities with small group activities promotes a sense of community
by helping students make connections with each other.
Group Facilitation
A fifth factor is group facilitation. As noted earlier, dialogue is an essential com-
ponent of an online course and facilitation efforts are meant to inspire learners
to interact. Online instructors must be mindful of two kinds of functions: (a)
functions related to the group task, and (b) functions related to building and
maintaining the group. The online instructor has a duty to see that these func-
tions are performed adequately, particularly in light of the potential for miscom-
munication in the ALN environment resulting from the diminished abilities of
the medium to convey nonverbal communications. In facilitating task-oriented
interactions, instructors should manifest a measure of humility, allowing atten-
tion to the voice of students as knowledge is constructed. Deutsch (1966) points
out that humility is “an attitude towards facts and messages outside one-self
openness to experience as well as to criticism a sensitivity and responsiveness
to the needs and desires of others” (p. 230). Benne and Sheats (1978) describe
group building and maintenance roles as those roles that are oriented toward the
functioning of the group as a group. They are designed to alter or to maintain
the group’s way of working, to strengthen, regulate and perpetuate the group as
a group. Some of these group maintenance roles might be: encourager, harmo-
nizer, compromiser, gatekeeper, standard setter, observer, or follower. Skill in
performing these roles is useful to the instructor in facilitating group discussion
and in promoting a sense of community.
International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning
Building Sense of Community at a Distance 10
Teaching Style and Learning Stage
A sixth factor consists of teaching style and learning stage. A sense of com-
munity is supported in learning environments where there is an alignment of
teaching style and learning stage. Grow (1991) describes self-directed learning
as the degree of choice that learners have within an instructional situation. He
theorized a staged self-directed learning model in which learners evolve from be-
ing dependent learners through intermediate stages of becoming interested and
then involved learners on their way to becoming fully functional self-directed
learners. Each stage of learning requires an instructor who manifests the ap-
propriate teaching style. For example, the dependent learner is usually most
comfortable in a learning environment that emphasizes structure over dialogue,
while the opposite is true for the self-directed learner who seeks more dialogue
and less structure. Mismatches will occur and both sense of community and
learning will suffer if there is a weak alignment of teaching style to learning
stage. For example, when confronted with an authoritarian instructor who em-
phasizes structure, self-directed learners are likely to resent and to rebel against
a series of low-level demands. However, even under directive teachers, some self-
directed learners develop the ability to function well and retain overall control
of their learning (Long, 1989). Grow (1991) suggests what is “good teaching”
for one student may not be “good teaching” for another student. Good teaching
does two things: (a) it matches the student’s stage of self-direction, and (b) it
empowers the student to progress toward greater self-direction. Good teaching
is situational and requires that the online instructor design and facilitate an
online course that accommodates the needs of all learners, regardless of their
stage of learning. However, as Lepper and Chabay (1985) point out regarding
learner-control “It is unlikely that any choice of level of control will be optimal
for all students, or even that the same level of control will be optimal for a single
student for all activities or in all situations” (p. 226).
Community Size
A seventh and final factor is community size. Appropriate class size seems to be
a perennial debate that divides educators when discussing traditional face-to-
face education. Common sense tells us that smaller classes facilitate increased
learner-instructor interaction and learner-learner familiarity, so one would ex-
pect smaller classes to promote a sense of community. The research conducted
by Glass and Smith (1979) in traditional class size continues to influence dis-
cussions to this day. Their meta-analysis consisted of 80 studies that compared
smaller and larger classes with respect to student achievement, classroom pro-
cesses, and teacher and student attitudes. They concluded that smaller classes
were significantly better than larger classes on all these variables.
International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning
Building Sense of Community at a Distance 11
However, distance education can increase the student-instructor ratio (i.e., class
size) by allowing one instructor to teach hundreds of students, such as occurs in
large university lecture halls. Large class sizes, with greater student-instructor
ratios, can rapidly amortize high development and initial technology costs. The
result is fewer and fewer teachers teaching to more and more students as course
design moves toward the independent study model. What may be overlooked is
that some specialized subjects, such as research and statistics, require equally
specialized learner attention.
Rice (1994) found that community size in computer-mediated environments
strongly influences learning activities. Too few members generate little inter-
actions and too many members generate a sense of being overwhelmed. Exact
numbers to guide community size are difficult to determine since the chemistry
of the community is situational and varies with content area, instructor, and
learners. Nonetheless, eight to ten students appear to be a reasonable estimate
for the minimum critical mass needed to promote good interactions. At the op-
posite end of this continuum, 20-30 students seem to be the most learners that
a single online instructor can reasonably handle in a single class if it contains
active discussions. However, large ALN courses, that is, courses with over 30
learners, can be managed by using a team teaching approach in order to main-
tain a reasonable student-instructor ratio and by using multiple active discussion
groups so that each learner can make connections with a reasonable number of
community members. Alternatively, large courses that focus on delivering con-
tent can be created, followed by small discussion groups led by subject matter
experts providing one-on-few coaching and mentoring. Still other strategies are
possible to manage larger classes efficiently, such as using teaching assistants
monitored by the online instructor, to facilitate discussion. When instructors
assign small group work in the face-to-face environment, the groups are often
sent away to conduct this activity on their own while the instructor focuses
on other aspects of the course. This strategy can also be used in an online
environment.
Conclusion
The literature provides evidence that persistence in distance education pro-
grams is lower than that of traditional face-to-face programs. There are many
contributing reasons why students drop out of distant programs, such as large
financial commitments, care of children and other social obligations, changing
work situations, limited academic support, dissatisfaction with teaching meth-
ods, low learner self-confidence and self-perception, and student feelings of isola-
tion (Cookson, 1990; Tinto, 1993; Besser & Donahue, 1996; Twigg, 1997). Some
factors are beyond the control of the school to influence, while other factors can
be mitigated by the school.
International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning
Building Sense of Community at a Distance 12
In order to improve persistence in distance education programs, schools need to
assist students in making the adjustment to learning at a distance by enhanc-
ing student satisfaction and commitment. Those students who possess strong
feelings of community are more likely to persist than those students who feel
alienated and alone (Tinto, 1993). Therefore, one strategy to help increase re-
tention is to provide students with increased affective support by promoting a
strong sense of community. Such a strategy has the potential to reverse feelings
of isolation and, by making connections with other learners, to provide students
with a larger base of academic support.
As sense of learner community may be viewed as consisting of four related dimen-
sions: spirit, trust, interaction, and commonality of learning expectations and
goals. A strategy that enhances these four dimensions should result in stronger
feelings of community. A review of literature suggests instructors teaching at
a distance may promote sense of community by attending to seven factors: (a)
transactional distance, (b) social presence, (c) social equality, (d) small group
activities, (e) group facilitation, (f) teaching style and learning stage, and (g)
community size. If we can design and deliver courses at a distance that build
and sustain community by drawing on these factors, perhaps our actions will
help promote satisfaction and retention in e-learning programs.
International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning
Building Sense of Community at a Distance 13
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Citation Format
Rovai, Alfred (April, 2002) Building Sense of Community at a Distance. International Review
of Research in Open and Distance Learning: 3, 1. http://www.icaap.org/iuicode?149.3.1.x
International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning
... However, despite online educators regular mislabeling any and all online courses as "learning communities" or "communities of inquiry" (see Lowenthal & Snelson, 2017;Trespalacios et al. 2021), we contend that developing a sense of classroom community is not common and actually more difficult than many believe (see Phirangee & Malec, 2017). As Rovai (2002) and others have illustrated, it takes intentional design and facilitation for a sense of classroom community to emerge. Further, it begins with regular interaction and the development and establishment of social presence with members of a course (see Lowenthal & Snelson, 2017;Picciano, 2002;Rovai, 2000). ...
... Last but not least, there could simply be issues with how we conceptualize classroom community and/or how we measure it. For instance, Rovai (2002) grounded his work on a psychological conception of communication. He included questions such as "I feel that this course is like a family" which might demonstrate a bias and/or limited perspective. ...
... It seems likely that remote online classes, particularly fully asynchronous classes, do not offer as many opportunities for students to develop bonds with their classmates and professors as in-person classes; thus, students may feel disconnected from their peers, professors, and their college. Indeed, past research has found that interaction, engagement, support, and general sense of community are crucial for online students' belonging and success (Peacock et al., 2020;Rovai, 2002;. However, no existing research assesses whether participating in synchronous courses improves students' sense of belonging and decreases their loneliness, let alone what the effects of remote class format are during a global pandemic. ...
Article
Full-text available
... However, despite online educators regular mislabeling any and all online courses as "learning communities" or "communities of inquiry" (see Lowenthal & Snelson, 2017;Trespalacios et al. 2021), we contend that developing a sense of classroom community is not common and actually more difficult than many believe (see Phirangee & Malec, 2017). As Rovai (2002) and others have illustrated, it takes intentional design and facilitation for a sense of classroom community to emerge. Further, it begins with regular interaction and the development and establishment of social presence with members of a course (see Lowenthal & Snelson, 2017;Picciano, 2002;Rovai, 2000). ...
... Last but not least, there could simply be issues with how we conceptualize classroom community and/or how we measure it. For instance, Rovai (2002) grounded his work on a psychological conception of communication. He included questions such as "I feel that this course is like a family" which might demonstrate a bias and/or limited perspective. ...
... It seems likely that remote online classes, particularly fully asynchronous classes, do not offer as many opportunities for students to develop bonds with their classmates and professors as in-person classes; thus, students may feel disconnected from their peers, professors, and their college. Indeed, past research has found that interaction, engagement, support, and general sense of community are crucial for online students' belonging and success (Peacock et al., 2020;Rovai, 2002;. However, no existing research assesses whether participating in synchronous courses improves students' sense of belonging and decreases their loneliness, let alone what the effects of remote class format are during a global pandemic. ...
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Full-text available
Full issue of Vol. 26 No. 4
... It seems likely that remote online classes, particularly fully asynchronous classes, do not offer as many opportunities for students to develop bonds with their classmates and professors as in-person classes; thus, students may feel disconnected from their peers, professors, and their college. Indeed, past research has found that interaction, engagement, support, and general sense of community are crucial for online students' belonging and success (Peacock et al., 2020;Rovai, 2002;Shea et al., 2005). However, no existing research assesses whether participating in synchronous courses improves students' sense of belonging and decreases their loneliness, let alone what the effects of remote class format are during a global pandemic. ...
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