Creating Community

What communities do you feel connected to? Why? Why do we need community? Benita and Melinda asked the same question this week. And I hope that I’ll leave you with one of many possible answers by the end of this post.

Whether fostering a community online or face-to-face, the instructor and students must establish expectations, participate in interactions, and develop communication skills. Like Schwier says, an environment doesn’t inherently develop into a community in which participants feel safe, belonging, committed and engaged. So, how do I plan to foster interactions using Canvas in my Music 9 prototype course?

Step #1 – Establish boundaries and participation rubric with students

Via edutech4teachers
                                     Via edutech4teachers
  • What rules are we going to follow in these spaces?
  • How often do you think you would need to participate for others to benefit from your contributions? Can you make this commitment?
  • What type of language are we going to use?
  • Learn about “Netiquette” and digital citizenship
  • Remember, chat comments cannot be deleted once they’ve been posted. You must be responsible.

Step #2 – Practice using the tools, explain their unique purposes/potentials

I plan to use the interactive and connective tools that are built into Canvas as the primary methods of communication: discussion, chat, conversations and conferences. We would practice using all of these tools and outline the expectations associated with each, before setting students “loose” to use them all.

The discussions section in Canvas allows responses to be organized by the question asked. Furthermore, students can add discussion questions if the instructor adjusts the settings to allow this. I would make sure that students would have access to this feature to increase the number of what Bryce-Davis calls “ringers,” which are new or unusual activities that “disrupt the established patterns and expectations just enough to renew interest” in the conversations. These discussions can be threaded, which allows members to focus in on particular comments of interest and follow that train of thought, rather than a stream of feed is more conducive to general comments. The threaded conversations help to ensure that discussion is organized and therefore potentially more meaningful and authentic. Small group options are available as well. Students can join particular focus groups based on interests or projects. Edutopia provides many suggestions in their Mastering Online Discussion Board Education Resource Guide. One idea is

“Instructional Discussion Boards should be used to meet specific course objectives and should be aligned with course content.”

For this reason, I would set the expectation for the discussion forum to be mostly related to the content of the course.

The chat section is a great option for students to socialize and build relationships. This area could be designed as a place for informal exchanges and for straight-forward student questions like, “When is this due?” or “What time are we meeting?”  It is important to note that comments in the chat cannot be deleted and are organized on a separate page from the discussion questions. Students would need to be aware of this ahead of time and know consequences for posting inappropriate comments.

Canvas also offers what they call Conversations, which is really just an email service. It’s a great option for one-on-one student-teacher interaction.

Finally, Canvas offers Conferences through a partnership with BigBlueButton, which is a web conferencing tool for synchronous online meetings, much like what we do with Zoom in EC&I 834. This option is ideal for group instruction or a more face-to-face feeling.

The combination of these tools is important. In his blog post this week, Adam said, “When looking for engagement amongst the class, it is vital to incorporate a number of different interaction opportunities.” The fact that Canvas has all of these tools within the same LMS means that students won’t need to check multiple providers to stay connected with their peers. When the log in to Canvas they will automatically be surrounded by opportunities to connect with each other in a variety of ways depending on the purpose of interaction.

Step #3 – Make the interactions meaningful, supportive and relevant

As I said before, setting expectations for each of the formats for interaction at the beginning of a course is crucial. The various forms of communication available, with students able to guide discussions, will make the interactions more meaningful than a strictly teacher-driven approach. Schwier says, “For a community to emerge, a learning environment must allow learners to engage each other intentionally and collectively in the transaction or transformation of knowledge. It isn’t enough that material is presented to people and they interact with the instruction. It isn’t enough that the learners interact with instructors to refine their understanding of material.”

Students also need to be taught the skill of asking critical or higher level questions for discussions to go beyond surface-level ideas and observations. Edutopia suggests teaching Bloom’s Taxonomy to ensure that students ask high-quality, purposeful questions.

Students need skills in research and citation as well, so that they find and support answers to their own and others’ questions.

However, my presence as the instructor in each of these areas will model meaningful and supportive interaction.

Schwier, 2001
                                Schwier, 2001

I think that required participation is also necessary, especially initially, to help students develop the habit of being a part of and contributing to the community. Icebreakers and introductions are important to developing historicity, which is an essential element of community.



I would also use rubrics for participation, as well as teacher, self, and peer evaluation to give students clear expectations and opportunities for feedback and self-reflection.

Step #4 – Troubleshooting

Edutopia helpfully outlines some Common Pitfalls so that educators embarking on this journey can avoid them. I think that I have planned for each of the concerns in my plan above. But the one that I feel I have the least control over is “Students may react in an inappropriate way by flaming other students or making disinterested or disrespectful comments to their peers or in response to assignments.” If this were to happen in a chat, there is one guide that says that the comment cannot be deleted. This is very concerning to me. If one student chooses to make a bad decision, it wouldn’t go away. I’ve emailed Canvas to ask why they’ve chosen this.

Step #5 – Learn!

By Frankieleon via Flickr
                                                                                By Frankieleon via Flickr

The primary benefit of creating a blended learning environment where students can connect online is that it improves the likelihood that they will learn more. Amy noted this in her blog post this week as well.  George Siemens’ Theory of Connectivity highlights the importance of networks in learning. I know this has certainly been true of my experience in EC&I 834.


13 thoughts on “Creating Community

  1. The risk of students being disrespectful online or in our regular classrooms are a potential reality unfortunately, but I always found them to be learning opportunities, assuming the student is receptive to growth or reason. An interesting anticipated duality of this however could be the disrespectful student isolating themselves from the online community yet simultaneously strengthening the rest of the community as they provide support to the “victims” – which may in turn lead to community learning about how to treat trolls.

    Great post Sarah! I enjoyed how you specifically addressed the establishment of boundaries and a participation rubric!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, there are always opportunities to learn. I’m just thinking that if someone sent something they later regretted, there would be absolutely no way to undo it. I guess that’s the reality of the digital age and he reason why dig lit is so important!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I really enjoy the steps you have laid out, especially numbers 1 & 2. I think that having students create the expectations and be involved in deciding what is acceptable/appropriate is a great idea. For most students this will be a new type of course and learning so allowing them to create some of the guidelines will help them in this type of course.

    I also believe that demonstrating how these tools work and what they will be used for is also really important. We had thought about integrating the discussions as a forum in our course too but I was unaware of the chat and conference options Canvas has. It would be important to discuss what the expectations are for each of these tools and when it would be appropriate to use a conference, chat or discussion in the class. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely! I didn’t notice those tools at first either, but I dug a little deeper this weekend and found out about them. Now I’m a bit concerned that they aren’t available on the free version. I emailed support to find out for sure. I might have to post an update!


  3. Thanks for the great post! Very clear and precise. I guess I missed the Conference aspect of Canvas – I decided to do a Zoom/Google Classroom/Blogging combo because I wanted the face-to-face aspect of Zoom, as well as the organization of Google Classroom. Maybe next time I will use Canvas! Can’t wait to see the end project!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope it works as well as the plan. Is still feel like I don’t know a lot and could easily be missing something important that I may not know how to troubleshoot when implementing it. I definitely rely on tech to work as it should in ideal circumstances!


  4. Nice job, Sarah! As always, your posts are well-written and dig right in to the issue. I love that you set it out so concretely and have really thought about how to use the tools best. I will note that the chat function is useful only if there are other students in it at the same time. Otherwise, asking your question in an environment that assumes instant response can feel even more isolating. (also, I’m not sure what the one in Canvas looks like, but the Moodle one is pretty ugly and doesn’t look like texting so students aren’t overly attracted to it.) Just some thoughts to consider when you’re framing how to make the most of the chat tool.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. That’s a great point to consider Kristen! Just because the tool could fit the purpose, doesn’t mean that it will attract use. I’m interested to see what students think.


    1. We’ve tried it in some courses but haven’t had much uptake as something to take advantage of randomly. Moodle’s chat looks pretty much exactly like the java script chats I used back in 1998. So I don’t blame students for not being too excited about it. And, as I said, if there’s one or two students logging in, then it isn’t too much fun for them. Chat rooms are only fun when there are people to talk to. So I’ll be curious to see if students find a purpose for it or what they think.


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