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Creating a community of learners in online courses.

Too many online courses are a series of videos, basic quizzes and superficial forums. Is it possible to support active online forums in which students and teachers discuss points of view and construct knowledge through dialog, creating a real community of learners?

In the Master in Digital Education of the University of Edinburgh that I am currently doing, discussions are at the centre of the learning process, so creating a community is an important objective of the program. I thought is would be useful to share some of their practices that have successfully supported exciting online discussions.

- Start creating a feeling of belonging by by getting everyone to post personal information (photos or videos, why they are taking the course, a little background, etc.). People become individuals and social exchanges start to take place.

- Have the whole teaching team model the expected behaviour by posting first, adding comments that link to the program, asking relevant questions. The continuous presence of tutors plays a role in keeping the conversation going and sometimes directing it in certain directions.

- Creating a discussion around what it means to be active in an academic and learning community, to set the rules together. We were given examples of behaviour on the forum and discussed these. A few controversial examples are a good way to get the conversation going. The Guide to Fostering Asynchronous Online Discussion in Higher Education is a useful reference. In

- The locus of motivation was kept as internal as possible. Participation was not graded, and the guidelines were quite general (posts should not be too long, the style can be informal, references are expected but the style is free). However, tutors did nudge students who were not participating.

- No emphasis on grades (which links to the above point). This takes away the stress from starting to learn and offers a safe environment to try out new ways. We are given time to learn, practice, and receive feedback before we are assessed. This is not specific to online courses, but an important part of the experience.

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© 2018 by H. G. Carbonel