How to develop student communities

Hi – below is a rather rough comment I sent to Keith Smyth following his Webinar. I’m intrigued how to encourage my students to interact more on online. I would also like to find out more from other people how I can link them with another student community, as in an example from Keith. Similarly, I wonder how I might develop a community across the course as a whole – currently students work within each of the course units, all at varying points in the part time (some are full time) course journey. So they tend to operate in the course module silo rather than across the course as whole.


Hi Keith, I’m doing the OctEL MOOC and enjoyed your webinar. I’d appreciate your thoughts: I help run an online masters in public health, with students from around the world. I find getting participation/discussion etc difficult and most will only engage with assessed activities (wikis, discussion question) and we’ve tried various things over the year. Secondly, I like the project on communities, and am thinking now about how we can link our students to other students. I wondered why you didn’t consider using something like Facebook or Linkedln (unless you did and I missed it).
All of our students are adult learners, and I think cultural and time issues etc are likely to influence their interest and ability to take part in activities. Some struggle to get internet connection. But aside from the latter, I wonder what ideas you might have to encourage greater engagement. Of course, there is the question why do I think it is important, and yes, I can find pedagogy to support it, but overall, it is considered to be good for students and their professional development.
A bit of a disjoined post – apologies. I need to spend time looking through the work you are doing at Napier more as well as very interesting and helpful.


"a technophobic in recovery" . Hello - I'm a senior lecturer at the University of Manchester, England. My subject area is Public Health. I spend most of my time teaching postgraduate students on a fully online distance learning programme in public health and primary care. I have come from a research background in public health and primary in the UK National Health Service. My main research & public health interests include the evaluation and impact assessment of public health interventions. I have published papers on randomised controlled trials, cross sectional studies and systematic reviews. My teaching and learning interests, more recently pursued, include pedagogy for vocational postgraduate students in an international context; the use of web-based technology for learning; Open Learning and MOOCs and the development of critical thinking skills and research training.

Tagged with: , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized
5 comments on “How to develop student communities
  1. Hi Roger,

    Your questions are very pertinent around how to engage whole groups of students across a course as well as through activities. I have previously worked for 5 years in the Health Care department of a University enabling and supporting distance-learning masters programmes and have come across the same desire to enable a sense of community both for the learning and educational aspects of the course but also in order to provide a welcoming and warm environment too.

    Two approaches that were taken were to:
    #1 Construct introduction activities during first couple of weeks (including posting profile information in order to enable familiarity with the online environment and act as a way of introducing / getting to know both the tutors and fellow students. This was then continued throughout activity design and other areas where it was much about students providing and asking questions and support to each other as the tutor facilitating and providing advice.

    #2 The specific construction of a non-work area (mainly a cafe discussion forum) where learners can discuss anything non-work related which really enabled the cohort to bond.

    I would say that this approach is only the start and that with the advent over the past 2-3 years of more robust synchronous facilities such as Skype, GoogleHangouts perhaps this could be extended even further.

    Interested and happy to share ideas and discuss further… either here or throughout the ocTEL course.


    • Hi James – thanks for the feedback in relation to my posting and the things you’ve tried aswell. We’ve also incorporated these approaches, but still with mixed response. I suppose I am left with (a) why am I so keen to get students talking more and (b) what evidence is there that this is a good thing anyway.

      Could you say a bit more about the course/students you are involved with? maybe this is an opportunity to think about linking up in terms of a collaborative community across courses. I’ve seen some examples of this (can’t remember where but could have been through the OcTEL course but seem to be coming across so many links etc from that and my own reading!) and it might be workable (if I can get colleagues/management agreement). But maybe I could pilot it through the students just enrolled on my course unit, which is evidence based practice (about 100 students, starting in Sept ) and / or Information Impact and Evaluation (around 25 students, starting February 2014) all as part of a masters in public health, a fully online distance learning degree.

      I’m certainly interested too in exploring the elearning research around adult learners – I think these distinctions are important to make, but don’t see much reference specifically to that.



  2. Jo Conlon says:

    After posing a similar question myself I was advised to read Kraut, R.E., Resnick, P (2011) Building Successful Online Communities. Chapter 3 – Encouraging commitment in Online communities. Commitment is distinguished into 2 types – identity-based and bonds-based. The differences and ways to encourage each is discussed further but I haven’t got there…yet!

  3. Keith Smyth says:

    Hi Roger

    Many thanks indeed for your comments and questions to last week’s webinar, which I’ve just picked up on my blog. Here’s just a line or few for the moment to say I’ll have a wee ponder over this evening and tomorrow, and come back to you before tomorrow’s out.

    Hopefully I can chip in with a few things to add to James and Jo’s ideas and very happy to have a follow up chat on these issues 🙂 Back very soon!



  4. Keith Smyth says:

    Hi Roger

    An apology from me.

    Yesterday ran away from me, and I didn’t manage to reply before the day was out. Very sorry about that, but please find a response now over at



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: