OSCQR – Standard #41RSI Dashboard illustration

OSCQR – Standard #41RSI Dashboard illustration

Course provides activities intended to build a sense of class community, support open communication, promote regular and substantive interaction, and establish trust (e.g., ice-breaking activities, Course Bulletin Board, planned Office Hours, and dedicated discussion forums).

Review These Explanations

Building a sense of community mitigates the solitude and isolation reported by online learners (Bibeau, 2001). Courses that promote class community help learning occur “in a social context” (Dewey) and mitigate the perception of a correspondence course.

Activities that build class community early on in the course typically fall into three categories:

  • Social activities which focus on self-expression.
  • Cognitive activities which focus on academic and professional goals.
  • “Getting Started” activities which familiarize learners with course materials and technology.

Each of these types of activities foster social presence, promote learner engagement and open up avenues for communication.

Social presence involves affective expression, open communication, and group cohesion. Each of these factors promote learner engagement in an online course (Annand, 2011). Affective expression manifests through the sense of belonging that learners feel after getting to know each other and form impressions in an online course. Open communication enables learners to feel comfortable participating in online conversations, and interacting with other learners. Group cohesion comes into play when learners feel comfortable disagreeing and challenging each other, and respecting opposing views while collaborating on course work (Rourke, et al., 1999).

Look for answers to these questions when developing these types of community activities:

  • Is the activity non-threatening?
  • Is it learner focused (social)?
  • It is content focused (cognitive)?
  • Does it require learners to read and respond to each other?
  • Does it encourage learners to find something in common with other learners?
  • Does it require learners to be reflective?


Bibeau, S. (2001). Social Presence, Isolation, and Connectedness in Online Teaching and Learning: From the Literature to Real Life. The Journal of Instruction Delivery Systems, 15, 35-39.

Croft, N., Dalton, A. & Grant, M., (2010) Overcoming Isolation in Distance Learning: Building a Learning Community through Time and Space, Journal for Education in the Built Environment, 5:1, 27-64.

Annand, D. (2011). Social Presence within the Community of Inquiry Framework. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning (IRRODL), 12(5).

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Collier Books.

Rourke, L., Anderson, T. Garrison, D. R., & Archer, W. (1999). Assessing social presence in asynchronous, text-based computer conferencing. Journal of Distance Education, 14(3), 51-70.

Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI)

How This Standard Supports RSI

RSI Dashboard illustration Online courses support regular and substantive interaction by building trust, and a strong sense of online class community. While online class community and trust can be cultivated and built with the instructor and between learners in an online course in various ways, the online instructor sets the tone and gets the course off to a good start by designing online course activities and spaces that are intended to build and grow a sense of class community among all course participants, establishing expectations for open communications, and specific activities and opportunities aimed at building trust. The course is designed intentionally with clear expectations and designated areas for specific activities, interactions, and communications, and their intended purposes are clear, including who is meant to use them, and how and when they are to be used. Expectations on how the instructor will interact, guide, and provide feedback are made clear, as well as those expectations for interaction between learners. The design of the course and the instructor, as a member of the online class community, building online community and trust through regular, substantive, scheduled and predictable course facilitation, community interaction, engagement, and open communications. Directing learners to ask questions and interact with the instructor, and others in the course, can help the learner develop a sense of class community and trust, which further supports RSI, and is a good general practice. Scheduling a specific instructor-facilitated discussion on course topics, or to provide clarification, help, or feedback demonstrates compliance with RSI.

Refresh Your Course with These Ideas

General Suggestions


  • Example Ice-Breaking activities.
  • Create an Ask the Professor discussion forum, associated with course modules, topics, activities to promote direct access to the instructor.
  • Create an Ask a Question discussion forum, associated with course modules, topics, activities to provide a dedicated consistent area in the course for learners to ask questions and get clarifications and help.
  • Create a course Hallway discussion forum, a course Bulletin Board, Coffee Shop, Class Community area, or virtual meeting/chat space where learners (and the instructor) can meet informally to chat about course-related (or other) topics. This establishes a metaphorical community space “outside” the “classroom,” where learners can “stop you in the hallway” to chat (asynchronous, or synchronous).
  • Create a scheduled weekly informal Open House forum (asynchronous, or synchronous) for learners to stop by for extra help, questions, or clarifications, or just to chat.
  • Create way for learners to sign up for scheduled more formal “Office Hours” with you for extra help, questions, or clarifications, or just to chat.
  • Create an instructor profile that models the information you would like your learners to share in order to represent themselves in the course.
    • Ask learners to update and add details to their profile pages in the LMS, and be sure that you do the same.
    • Have learners create an avatar that represents them in some way, (their likes/dislikes hobbies, or interests.)

Explore More Refreshing Ideas from the Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository (TOPR) at the University of Central Florida (UCF)

This Pedagogical Practice from TOPR explores methods and approaches to supporting social presence and creating a welcoming learning environment to support learner success in online courses.

Use Digital Posters for Online Community Introductions
A sense of community within a course can increase student engagement, persistence, and performance (Rovai, 2002; Vesely, Bloom, & Sherlock, 2007). In asynchronous teaching, creating community can be challenging. Instructors can facilitate a sense of community by providing ways for students to introduce themselves to each other (Woods & Ebersole, 2003). (Read more …)

Explore Related Resources

Jones, P., Naugle, K., & Kolloff, M. (2008). Teacher presence: Using introductory videos in hybrid and online courses. Learning Solutions.
McIntyre, C. (2004). Shared Online and Face-to-Face Pedagogies: Crossing the Brick-and-Click Divide. Educational Technology, 44(1), 61-63.
Russo, T. C., & Campbell, S. W. (2004). Perceptions of mediated presence in an asynchronous online course: Interplay of communication behaviors and medium. Distance Education, 25(2), 215 – 232.
Widmeyer, W. N. & Loy, J. W. (1988). When you’re hot, you’re hot! Warm-cold effects in first impressions of persons and teaching effectiveness. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80(1), 118-121.

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OSCQR has been developed by a community of online practitioners interested in quality course design. There are numerous opportunities for community members to offer suggestions, donate resources, and help with future development.

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