How do we build effective online student communities?

Kathryn Fee*, L Pick, Charles McCartan, Paul Hermon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOther contribution to conferencepeer-review

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The rapid switch to online modes of delivery in many institutions has brought with it a myriad of challenges for engineering programme delivery, including issues around effective technologies, digital access, and delivery of hands-on project and laboratory activities.
Reflection on these issues after a full semester of online teaching at our institution suggests that despite initial difficulties, both educators and students have adapted well to online delivery of content, and indeed certain aspects such as video content and online quizzes have been very well received by students. However, significant challenges remain in creating effective social structures and peer groups which are vital for student learning, mental health and wellbeing. Online delivery remains ‘distant’ (Ní She, et al 2019), not only is there a degree of separation between the educator and student but the student is also separated from their peers. Lui et al (2007) highlighted how online modes of delivery can lead to a sense of student isolation. To overcome this, it is important to embed opportunities and activities for engagement. Some activities within the school such as an ongoing reflective journal activity for Mathematics, involving online peer group feedback sessions, have been generally well received: “I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of my group…it’s been refreshing to be able to talk to people on my course and not just be watching lectures all day. They’ve been super helpful with any problems I’ve had.” However, managing these has been technically challenging and time intensive, and issues with engagement remain.
After a full academic year of teaching online, drawing on the experiences from our own School, the aim is that this workshop will be a starting point for collating best practices in building engaging online communities, with potential opportunity for further collaboration between workshop participants across various institutions. The workshop will provide opportunities for participants to share experiences/methods and both motivate and give confidence to those who want to try new forms of online engagement with their students.


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