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Theory about the process of community -building in distance learning class

Ruth Elaine Hagedorn Brown, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


In reviewing literature on distance learning for adult and nontraditional students in higher education, a decided lack of information was found about community-building within the class and with the institution. The purpose of this study, then, was to develop a theory about the process through which community formed in adult computer-mediated asynchronous distance learning classes. A grounded theory design was used in which the researcher interviewed twenty-one students and three faculty members from three graduate-level distance education classes and read their archived class input. ^ Steps identified in the community-building process were: students (1) received and started familiarizing themselves with software, textbooks, (2) gained comfort with technology, pedagogy, content and faceless interaction, (3) made self-assessment and judgments of others, (4) found similarities about which to communicate, (5) found personal or academic need to be part of community, (6) allocated time accordingly, (7) provided supportive interaction, (8) provided substantive validation, (9) made on-line friends, (10) earned each other's trust and respect, (11) became more fully engaged, (12) experienced community conferment, (13) helped enlarge community, (14) enjoyed long-term, personal communication, (15) experienced camaraderie. ^ Thus, a three-stage phenomenon was identified. The first stage was making friends on-line with whom students felt comfortable communicating. The second stage was community conferment which occurred when students were part of a long, thoughtful, threaded discussion on a subject of importance after which participants felt both personal satisfaction and kinship. The third stage was camaraderie which was achieved after long-term or intense association with others involving personal communication. Each of these stages involved a greater degree of engagement in both the class and the dialogue. ^ Because communities of learners often want to sustain their relationships (Gabelnick, MacGregor, Matthews & Smith, 1990b), it seemed to this researcher that community-building should be emphasized not just for the sense of belonging provided students but also to help keep them in the class and in the program, to promote full engagement in the classes, to facilitate effective collaborative learning, and to encourage continued communication after the course or program was complete for development and career services purposes. ^

Subject Area

Education, Adult and Continuing|Education, Technology of|Education, Curriculum and Instruction

Recommended Citation

Brown, Ruth Elaine Hagedorn, "Theory about the process of community -building in distance learning class" (2000). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9973587.