Jen Lewon uses social media to build student community in distance-learning course.
The Speech Language Pathology Prerequisites (SLPP) program is a distance-learning leveling coursework program in Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences. Many of the SLPP students live in areas where they cannot access traditional (on-campus) undergraduate coursework. Students come from all over Colorado, including rural and remote regions of the state. Students are very communicative using D2L discussion boards, and often state that they wish they could meet in person and work together more often, in and out of class. Students who live in close proximity have put together study groups when possible, but most students don’t have access to this option. Students have discussed using other forums to connect, but have not realized that goal yet. Many are non-traditional age learners and most work while taking these courses.
How the Teaching and Learning Challenge has Changed Over Time
Students engaged in traditional campus-based programs have unlimited forums for connecting with other students in or outside of their programs of study. Distance learners have limited access to similar forums because many rely on being face-to-face with peers. Researchers and instructors have invested time ensuring that online courses and learner outcomes are similar to traditional study, but perhaps less on how to build student community for distance learners.
As evidenced by the maps below (Figure 1, Figure 2), SLPP students come from all over Colorado, including rural and remote regions of the state.
Plans to Address Challenge
Idea or opportunity:
- Build an online community where students can have conversations and share ideas
- Use technology in the course that promotes student interaction (via text, audio or video)
- Use technology to engage and connect students for course content and to demonstrate technology, but also allow student access to also use this technology on their own to communicate, work together and build community
Increasing opportunities to connect distance learners in the SLPP program will benefit the students, the courses and the community.
Benefits for the student:
- Students can act as valuable resources to one another, whether it be studying for tests, helping a student who doesn’t have a textbook, working on projects, etc.
- Students can build community. Many of these students are coming back to school in a field they have passion for, and would like to share that with others. Also, students need a forum where they can discuss courses, instructors, texts, etc. outside of the course, especially for more critical discussion.
Benefits for the course:
- Students working together will enhance opportunities for course projects, collaborative learning and learner outcomes.
Benefits for the community:
- Certain communities have limited access to skilled personnel for community, or the educational opportunities to train individuals in their community to fill these roles. Connecting distance learners helps to grow these life learners in situ.
Implications for not solving or addressing it
- Students may feel disconnected and will not benefit from the resource/support of their fellow students. Students may use chat rooms or discussion forums to connect, but without a good structure for this, students may connect incompletely or not at all.
Plans for Implementation
- Spring 2014
- SLHS 4512: Speech Disorders
- Speech Language Pathology Prerequisites (SLPP) program distance-learning leveling course
- 30 students enrolled in the class (part of the 2013-2014 SLPP cohort) that will have completed 2 semesters (2 classes per semester in summer and fall 2013) of distance learning coursework together.
- Google+, specifically Google communities and Google hangouts, will help to connect distance learners in my course. By increasing student interaction, students can build community, support each other and enhance the collaborative learning process.
- Google tools promote collaboration and sharing. Google community and Google hangouts will allow students to share resources, get together for study groups, and engage in discussions about the course or the program.
- CU-Boulder has partnered with Google in order to offer Google-powered communication and collaboration tools to the campus. Because of this, students have access to Google+ with their colorado.edu email addresses and OIT will support students with Google+ support.
Description of use
- Students will access Google+, find the SLHS 4512 Google community and post a video, audio or text personal introduction. By using the Google+ community for the Intro assignment in the course, I hope to encourage early access to the technology to increase use through the semester.
- Next, I will host a Google hangout as a chat or study session to show students how to get together online.
- I will post non-course discussion questions on the community (are students applying to grad school? taking GREs? etc.) to encourage students to visit the community and interact there.
- Instructor knowledge/comfort with Google+
- use of a private vs public community
- implications for public access to information/video hangouts
- how to make community searchable
- inviting students who haven't joined Google+
- developing instructions/screencast on joining Google+
- Google+ home page features
- account management
- use of audio or text or video introductions
- scheduling hangouts/events
- Student knowledge/comfort with Google+
- Access to help/support with technology through OIT
- Building a successful community in Google+
Managing a Google+ Community: Tips for a Successful Community
- Promote your community as a place where people can have conversations and share ideas
- Participate in conversations by posting, leaving comments, and +1’ing posts
- Celebrate and engage with your members
- Add moderators and invite them to manage content and share regularly
- Add categories to help guide discussions
- Listen to and learn from your community’s members
- Managing posts and members
- Just broadcast information
- Only pose broad questions in hopes of discussion and engagement
- Invite people to join an empty community -- write an initial post to set expectations and welcome new members
- Leave your community unmoderated -- check in daily on your community to make sure the right kinds of conversations are happening.
How will you know if your students have achieved the intended outcome?
- Students are able to access and use the Google+ community
- Students demonstrate an understanding of what your community is about
- Students participate in conversations by posting, leaving comments, and +1’ing posts
- Students navigate community easily to find the topics they’re most interested in
- Students interact in community regarding course content and for course assignment/chat/study session
- Students access the technology on their own to communicate, work together and build community
How will you know if the changes you made in your teaching made a difference?
- Moderate Google+ community discussions/interactions/conversations
- Participate in conversations by posting, leaving comments, and +1’ing posts
- Celebrate and engage with members of the community
- Listen to and learn from the community members
- Student feedback
How will you identify/ measure growth in your students or in your teaching?
- Start a discussion toward end of semester within Google+ community regarding the project
- Specifically ask students whether they would like a Google+ community built into other courses or for the SLPP program in general
- Survey within D2L
- Faculty course questionnaire (FCQ) feedback
What worked well?
- The technology was intended to promote student interaction (via text, audio or video), to engage and connect students for course content, and to allow students to access this technology on their own to communicate, work together and build community
- Students in SLHS 4512 were able to access and use the Google+ community. Students participated in conversations by posting, leaving comments, and +1’ing posts. Students navigated the community easily to find the topics they were most interested in. Students did not use the Google+ community for discussion of course content, since the Discussion tool in D2L already seemed to meet that need. However, students did access the technology on their own to communicate, work together and build community, specifically to introduce themselves and interact on a more personal level, and to have a continuing discussion about applications to graduate school, GREs, etc.
What would you do differently in the future?
- SLPP students begin coursework in summer and enroll in 4 consecutive semesters (summer, fall, spring, summer) to complete the program. I introduced this tool in spring 2014, during the cohort’s third semester together. Introducing this kind of communication tool earlier in the program (during summer 1) would likely increase its utilization and build the distance learning community.
What feedback did students give?
- A few students had difficulty accessing the technology initially (to get signed up with Google+ and enter the community). Other students were very helpful (within D2L discussion forums), sharing their experiences and how they had encountered and overcome similar issues. Ultimately, every student in the course was able to join the community. The discussion about graduate school applications was productive, although some students expressed that they wished the discussion had begun earlier (most of the graduate school application process occurred before the community was built). They expressed how nice it was to meet each other, see each other’s faces and hear each other’s voices following the introduction assignment. I may continue to survey the students for feedback on use of the tool (during end-of-semester FCQs or course reflection surveys).
Description of sample experiences or student use:
- Of the 24 students registered in the course, 24 accessed and joined the SLPP 2013-2014 community, and 21 posted introductions (17 text, 4 video and 0 audio). There were 13 comments posted on introduction posts. In the community posts category, there have been 17 posts about the grad school application process, mostly interacting with one another about where students applied, whether they were waiting to apply, and comments/questions about the application process. No hangout sessions have been initiated by the instructor or students.
- Figure 3 is a screenshot of the Google+ community, specifically the text and video introductions