by Katie, Dean and Zach (a.k.a The Disruptors)
The identities formed by online and face to face learners can be a direct result of the medium in which they are engaging in the community. The medium in which your message is communicated changes the message slightly and impacts your identity within the community. This would imply that those engaging in online courses will communicate slightly different messages than those in face to face courses, developing slightly different identities which can then cause marginalization of members or fracturing of communities. In I used a robot to go to work, Vincent relates his trials with a robot to join the community. “The bot you’re inhabiting shapes how people relate to you. It might sound silly, but think about the rolling ball robot that appeared in the new Star Wars trailer: that thing was onscreen for all of two seconds, but it was long enough for us to think, ‘Oh my, that’s a cute robot’” (Vincent, 2015). Does this then mean that utilizing physical representations of virtual participants may be less than we the authors have dreamed? “A telepresence robot may give you the ability to move around and explore in a remote environment, but you’re still beholden to all the usual social conventions of the 21st century office” (Vincent, 2015). However, Vincent also communicates that his particular environment was already using electronic media to communicate in the office. Could there be different results in an arena where community members have not already migrated to electronic participation?
Through our interviews we have determined the importance of social interaction in both classroom and workplace communities to feel like full participants in the given communities. Childress and Spurgin (2009) surveyed students who participated in an online and face to face instructional design technology degree programs. Those students who did not participate in the face to face communities were less likely to feel as if they were part of the school community. Lack of physical cues are cited as a possible cause, where students felt anxious and confused by lack of feedback and discordance with tone in online communication. Online users felt there was not anything for them to get involved with. Rovai (2004) found that students with higher SAT scores were more likely to be dissatisfied with their online educations, likely due to discordance and lack of community, in addition to issues with time management.
The idea of designing the online course to facilitate learning is found as far back as 1999, when Mellander and Mellander first introduced 11 Steps with which to design online education. “Interaction does not simply occur but must be intentionally designed into the instructional program” (Berge in Rovai, p. 85, 2004). Possible solutions for diminishing the discordance online education users felt, including:
- faculty modeling
- centralizing training on technology tools at the department or university level, instead of course level
- synchronous physical and virtual gatherings of faculty and staff
- websites that maintain a persistent online profile, rather than rehashing the information in each course (suggested community formed prior to coursework) (Childress & Spurgin, 2009)
Additionally, throughout our interviews, research, and this week’s readings a recurring theme appeared as a lack of community, or a feeling of isolation from online learners. One brainstorming idea that our group kept coming back to was this idea of creating some form of an online “water cooler” for both online and face-to-face students to communicate with each other, which was found almost verbatim in Rovai’s writing. “Online instructors can promote socializing by creating a discussion forum devoted to this purpose. Use of the name Water Cooler Forum seems appropriate as the water cooler in the workplace is an area where workers often engage in socializing” (Rovai, 2004).
Moving forward, our design challenge will have to focus explicitly on the goal of creating a community in which all members are equal participants, regardless of medium used for communication, and does not marginalize participants. Challenging to this will be that we can foresee synchronous communication being critical to foundational building of community, however it does not always align with the reasons students elect to participate in online education (i.e. time and location constraints.) A system in which that freedom is allowed, but still creates communities in which all participants are full members.
Childress, M., & Spurgin, D. (2009, December 22). Effects of University and Departmental Community on Online Learners. Retrieved March 27, 2015, from http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/effects-university-and-departmental-community-online-learners
Mellander, G., & Mellander, N. (1999, June 1). Community Colleges and Online Education. Retrieved March 27, 2015, from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED460735
Rovai, A. (2004). A constructivist approach to online college learning. The Internet and Higher Education, 7(2), 79-93. Retrieved March 25, 2015, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1096751604000144
Vincent, J. (2015, March 26). I used a robot to go to work from 3,500 miles away. Retrieved March 26, 2015, from http://www.theverge.com/2015/3/26/8294855/telepresence-robots-double-robotics-remote-skype-office