Connecting students through common activities and shared experience.

Originally posted on November 12, 2010 by Brian Beatty

We know that communities are formed when people with a shared goal are connected to each other as they complete common activities and share meaningful experiences. Learning communities are formed among people trying to learn in order to know and/or to do something they can’t do right now. We (faculty) like to think of our classes as learning communities, whether or not any “true” community forms.

In the HyFlex course design I use, I try to connect online and classroom students in meaningful ways, in an effort to support and encourage the development of meaningful learning community. I believe that a strong sense of community enhances the learning experience on several dimensions – cognitively as more ideas are shared and peers collaborate in developing each others’ understanding of content (social construction), and socially as students participating in both modes feel more connected to each other, to the course, to the MA program, and to a lesser extent to the university. I think this may be especially important to design into a HyFlex course because there could be a significant imbalance in the numbers of students participating in each mode. In an interactive graduate seminar, there may be very few online learners from week to week, and in an undergraduate lecture-driven course there may be few classroom learners.

Shared required reflection discussion posts (discussed in an earlier post) are a major activity to draw students together frequently and regularly in a common experience. Students in a class are essentially a s class-bound cohort, and they move through content, assignments, and other activities together (with week to week synchronicity). If online students were allowed to complete course assignments and activities with true “anytime” freedom, this synchronicity might not be present, and that could lessen the development of learning community.

Other important shared experiences are peer-reviews of class assignments and using common archives of classroom and online discussions. Regular peer reviews of assignments (papers) encourage students to give, solicit and receive feedback from peers who may be online or together in the classroom. When assignments are posted to an online space shared by all students, peer reviews that cross participation modes are afforded and may even be encouraged.  In a HyFlex course, both online and classroom discussions may be archived for later review. If ongoing online discussions are referenced in classroom discussions, the natural conceptual and social linkages between the two discussions are strengthened. When classroom student voices are included in discussion archives, students who are working online may recognize their own voice or those of other online peers (if they were part of that particular classroom discussion) and form some form of additional social connection. Peer reviews of ongoing work and the social connections from sharing in a discussion experience (even when reviewing an archive) can both strengthen the learning community.

One final thought on this topic: A potential advantage of the HyFlex course design over a purely bi-modal course (where students are either fully online or fully classroom-based) or typical hybrid course (where the instructor dictates the participation mode for all students) is that students have the freedom (and capability, perhaps) to switch back and forth, so that they can be members of both learning community subgroups and can form close attachments with either subgroup if desired.

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