OSCQR – Standard #41

OSCQR – Standard #41

Course contains resources or activities intended to build a sense of class community, support open communication, and establish trust (at least one of the following – Icebreaker, Bulletin Board, Meet Your Classmates, Ask a Question discussion forums).

Review These Explanations

Building a sense of community mitigates the solitude of the online learner. 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?


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.

Refresh Your Course with These Ideas

  • Create an icebreaker discussion forum that asks learners to find something in common with another learner in the course. This can get a bit crazy at the start, but learners will jump in and share right away.
  • Have learners read an article, or preview the textbook, and have them share their insights and opinions.
  • Post a question and have the first learner to access the discussion answer that question, and pose the next question for the next learner.
  • Create a course “hallway” discussion forum, or virtual meeting/chat space where learners (and the instructor) can meet informally to chat about course-related (or other) topics. This establishes a community space outside of the virtual classroom, where learners can “stop you in the hallway” to chat.
  • Ask learners to update their profile pages in the LMS, and be sure that you do the same.
  • Have learners create an avatar that illustrates their likes/dislikes or hobbies or interests.
  • Create an instructor profile that models the information you would like your learners to share in order to represent themselves in the course.
  • Participate in ANY welcome activity along with your learners. If you are asking them to share to set the tone for conversation in the online space, be sure that YOU are there as well.

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.

Share What You Know

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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