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Take your teaching online

1.3 Foster a sense of community

Wenger’s (1998) concept of ‘communities of practice’ has gained traction in education over the past two decades. Wenger suggests that people who share a common goal or purpose can form a community of practice through which they share insights and experiences. Members of a community are practitioners in a particular area. For example, they could be teachers in a subject area who discuss their ideas and experiences in a shared online space. Active participation in a community of practice is a social process, and yet it enhances individuals’ learning and can also increase their social capital through developing connections and recognition.

Building community is important for online learning, where learners can readily drift away or feel isolated due to the nature of online engagement. So think about steps to keep them together and engaged. This might involve reminding them of what they are supposed to be working on at any given moment, or fostering a sense of community between the learners by making yourself a key part of that community. Drawing on the concept of communities of practice, you could emphasise that connecting and sharing with like-minded others can be very beneficial.

You might find that you spend less time engaging with students through lectures or traditional sessions because this material is instead presented in a form they can access independently at any time. In an online environment, the role of the teacher can become more supportive and collegiate, such that the learners understand that your primary role is to help them to succeed on the course. To this end, it can be useful to construct an individual relationship with each learner rather than always relying on mass or automated emails.

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