Building Online Community

Students experience online and hybrid courses through a series of connected interactions: student to student, student to instructor, and student to content interactions.

The Community of Inquiry Framework suggests a way to understand how education is experienced under various educational contexts where there are differences in discipline, applications, and communications methods (online or blended) (Garrison & Arbaugh, 2007). Swan’s Model of Interactivity is adapted from the Community of Inquiry Framework, and is similar. It looks at each of the three areas as a form of interactivity that is crucial to meaningful online learning in computer mediated environments.

Tips for Improving Cognitive Presence & Supporting Student to Content Interactions

  • Communicate course goals and learning objectives
  • Use a variety of presentation styles
  • Provide multiple opportunities for practice/exercises
  • Provide hands-on problems with real world applications
  • Allow for sharing of relevant personal experiences
  • Encourage integration of information from various sources
  • Allow learner control of pacing (when appropriate)
  • Require explanations or reasoning of solutions, not simply answers
  • Plan frequent low-stakes assessment / feedback opportunities
  • Feedback should be clear and timely
  • Consistent layout in materials and navigation


Tips for Improving Teaching Presence & Supporting Student to Instructor Interactions

Supplemental Video

Design & Organization

  • Include introductory videos, personalized notes
  • Provide narrated PowerPoint presentations
  • Ensure course site is organized, clear, easy to navigate
  • Plan frequent opportunities for public and private communications
  • Review and consider the course/module objectives —ask  ‘does this discussion question support the course/module objective or focus?’ Students dislike busy work— discussion questions without a focus and purpose lead to shallow responses
  • Make discussions a significant part of course grade (extrinsic motivation)
  • Develop solid rubrics for grading discussion participation
  • Require student to respond to other student postings

Facilitating Discourse

  • Include icebreakers - introduce yourself - model behavior
  • Establish netiquette policy
  • Be timely - leave ‘evidence’ that you are present
  • Create questions that will elicit more than one answer or solution
  • Frame questions as open-ended. Begin questions with how, what or why
  • Summarize discussions
  • Don’t be the center of every discussion - don’t respond to all posts

Direct Instruction

  • Provide content-expert support
  • Timely and supportive feedback
  • Refer students to information resources
  • Organize activities that allow the students to construct the content in their own minds and personal contexts.
  • Consider using synchronous tools for office hours

Tips for Improving Social Presence and Student Interactions with Peers

Supplemental Video


  • Post introductions and expectations early.
  • Ask students to provide support for responses with examples/references, e.g. personal experiences, stories or other sources.
  • Share your own personal stories and professional experiences
  • Instructor and students should upload/share a profile pic
  • Address students by name
  • Create questions that encourage students to voice their opinion, perspective, personal experience
  • Incorporate discussions where students build pieces of their own projects, papers, etc. (e.g., ‘share your research topic and 3 reasons why it is relevant for your personal development’)

Open Communication

  • Create a “commons area” for off-topic discussions.
  • Provide a risk-free environment for sharing and exchange of ideas. (netiquette and peer review guidelines)
  • Use technology to support open discussions, Q&As (e.g., chat, Adobe Connect, etc.)
  • Summarize discussion threads weekly and participate throughout the week

Group Cohesion

  • Use appropriately sized small groups for discussions and activities
  • Ask or provide opportunities for student to share about their background and learning goals
  • Ask questions that encourage students to engage with other students in the class
  • Ask questions that prompt students to generate lists of information/data as a class
  • Provide assignments and opportunities for students to work collaboratively
  • Have small groups identify a team name and develop a team charter at the beginning of the course