Creating their own community

I’ve read a lot about how to create online community. I’m not so good at it. In my own work, I join a lot of groups and can’t keep up with them all. Too many feeds, too many people. I confess, I get a little lost!

But I’m supposed to do it with my students, help them form a community in my class. I’ve read all the articles, all the research. If they feel they are part of a community, they’ll stick around. They won’t drop the class. I’ve been successful in developing good discussion forums, but sometimes even those don’t work. Only rarely do my students meaningfully connect to each other in online discussion. Well, so far as I know!

I teach a class each semester on-site, at the San Elijo campus of MiraCosta. Used to be I’d post the syllabus and information in Blackboard. Once I tried to link the class directly into the online version of the same course, but they didn’t come to class then and got behind. As a new thing this semester, I opened a Moodle site where I posted all the homework, and my lecture notes, and their grades, etc. Like Blackboard, Moodle has a Message feature. Unlike Blackboard, the feature is very easy to use.

So one day earlier this semester, a student Messaged me to say she couldn’t find something in her Grades. In order to submit the assignment she was doing, I had to log in as her (a handy Moodle feature). When I did so, a bunch of Message windows opened up. Of course I didn’t read them, but it became immediately apparent that a group in the class was using Messages to communicate. A fairly large group, of 7-10 students. They were using it a lot. Once I knew, I noticed it in the classroom. Not all were great students. But they were obviously studying together.

The thing is, I didn’t ask them to do this. I didn’t create their “network”. I didn’t even tell them Messages was available for their use. I just gave them access to the system. They created the use that worked for them, and they used it the way they wanted to. Two of them had crises during the semester, and one of the others helped out the person in trouble with notes and messages. None of them dropped the class. All of them are taking the final exam this week.

The moral? I’m not sure. Maybe they’re linking up online more than I know. They are creating support systems unrelated to the college or to my class, or to anything I do. That’s good, surely. I don’t need to control it. But I sure would like to encourage it!

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