Thursday, 20 March 2014

Impacts of Instructors on Creating a Supportive Community of Online Learners

 Impacts of Instructors on Creating a Supportive Community of Online Learners

By Sedi Minachi
Objective:  The Role of Faculty

A successful online course is marked by a high level of support provided by the instructor to the online learner community. It is expected that students want the instructor to initiate the creation of a supportive online community enabling them to communicate and engage with their classmates and the instructor in a non-judgmental environment.  Palloff and Pratt (1999) stated that creating a supportive online community results in students feeling welcomed and supported as they progress through their course without being impacted by discrimination, and feel safe to express themselves without being judged by other online community members (Palloff & Pratt, 1999).  

In an engaged learning environment, instructors have ethical and professional responsibilities to ensure they are approachable by their students, and that their community of learners is continuously supported regardless of who they are. Online courses designed and developed to provide students with a friendly/inclusive learning environment in which all students feel respected and empowered, and develop a sense of acceptance and belonging among them (Conrad & Conaldson, 2011). 
The objective of this journal is to reflect on the role of instructors in supporting a community of online learners and explore ways to maximize learning and other benefits. 

Reflective Comment: Success is Marked by Effective Engagement

In my opinion, a key element that faculty must be vigilant of while delivering an online course is whether learners experience a sense of community. One indicator of the absence of this sense of community and community building support from faculty is when students indicate they feel isolated and/or when a course has a high dropout rate. 

To prevent failure caused by a lack of support from faculty, it is essential for instructors to build trust and understanding between learners and between learners and faculty. Without this, students experience burnout and a sense of disconnection from the course is likely to follow (Kranzow, 2013).
To overcome the sense of isolation in an online classroom, Rovai (2002) recommends the following:
… one strategy to help increase retention is to provide students with increased affective support by promoting a strong sense of community. Such a strategy has the potential to reverse feelings of isolation, and, by making connections with other learners, to provide students with a broader base of academic support. (p. 12)

I believe that creating a supportive online learners’ community is difficult and requires creativity on the part of the instructor because students mainly work at their own pace and at times convenient to them. This implies that the main responsibility lies on the instructor to create strategies for learning and to provide guidance to students while connecting them together via technology and via their curricular decisions. Conrad and Donaldson (2011) suggest using an online icebreaker activity as one way to establish the supportive learning community and initiate interactions between community members. “If the instructor knows other experienced online learners in the environment, he or she may assign them a special role to play in the icebreaker, or even ask them to lead it (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011, p. 51).”
In echoing Conrad and Donaldson’s argument, and as a person who has taken several online courses, I pose that the faculty needs to be directly involved in creating a supportive online community by organizing students’ online group meetings/discussion and by sharing pedagogical course components with students. Without frequent interaction with students, students who are not used to participating in online courses can feel lost and confused.

Interpretive Comments: Team work and Collaborative work through Supportive Faculty

Building a supportive educational community among online learners is important because instructors establish role models for students to follow while students learn to care about their peers while participating in teamwork and collaborative learning.  
Instructors who are passionate about creating a supportive online community of learners are expected to spend more time to set up several groups at different times and form informal social interactions among students, and these informal interactions go beyond being mere discussion forums. This approach can be challenging for instructors teaching many courses simultaneously. These busy instructors can find it more challenging to develop a supportive environment and often due to lack of time and energy leave students to deal with the course on their own.
On the one hand, once students feel the presence of a supportive online community, they can develop friendships among themselves, and not only will they in many cases successfully finish their course, they may also use its example of teamwork and collaborative problem solving throughout their careers. 
On the other hand, once students are empowered to engage with each other through collaborative work and different activities like interacting with each other beyond the group discussion, they will share and exchange academic and non-academic experiences with peers, providing these learners with additional opportunities, especially for those new to technology and the online environment (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011). 

Decisional Comments: Applying a Supportive Online Community

As suggested by Conrad and Donaldson (2011), an icebreaker activity helps to create a supportive online classroom. In addition, faculty can connect with online learners by posting an introductory video welcoming students which goes beyond explaining the course and assignment expectations. For example, in this video faculty should encourage students to develop friendships among themselves and share their academic experiences and knowledge with each other in an informal setting. 
This step first requires students to introduce themselves by posting their bio or short introductory video of themselves. They should also have options for using different technological tools to interact socially and communicate with others engaged in collaborative course work. I am inspired by Conrad and Donaldson’s book (2011), Engaging the Online Community and feel positive about applying their words of wisdom in building a supportive online community in which all students feel safe to share their backgrounds, cultures, experience and knowledge with peers and the instructor in a non-structured setting which connects students with communities related to their course, and encourages them to build networks reaching beyond the classroom environment.


 Kranzow, J. (2013).  Faculty Leadership in Online Education:
Structuring Courses to Impact Student Satisfaction and Persistence.
  MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, Vol. 9, No. 1, March 2013.                        Retrieved on March 4, 20014 from

Palloff, R M., & Pratt, K. (1999). Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace: Effective Strategies for the Online Classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Rovai, A. P. (2002). Building sense of community at a distance. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 3(1). Retrieved on March 4, 2014 from
Conrad, R. M. & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Peer Partnership and Team Activities. Engaging the Online Learner: Activities and Resources for Creative Instruction. Jossey-Bass Wiley: San Francisco

Online Learning Environment

Online Learning Environment
By Sedi Minachi

Objective:  Create Engaging Online Learning Environments & Experiences

Learning is a process of skills and knowledge development requiring support from faculty and interaction among students. Actively engaging online learners requires facilitating and connecting students using technological tools which engage them as learners individually and in groups as they write reflective journals and participate in online discussion.
Many varieties of online class activities are made possible through the use of the internet and social media. They offer learners more flexibility and control in terms of how and when they learn while requiring them to work more independently of instructors.
The objective of this journal is to reflect on online learning environments I’ve encountered as a student and now an instructor new to integrating technological tools into teaching online courses.

Reflective Comment: Online Courses are Self-Managed

Reflecting on online learning environment is important in any online course because as Conrad and Donaldson (2011) point out, the learning outcome of an online course is the focus of an activity and “… when an activity does not contribute to a learning outcome only adds confusion to the course and risks learner dissatisfaction at having to do unnecessary activity (p. 18).”
An effective online course uses multiple tools for class activities and the instructor sometimes has to select the best tool and the best teaching method to match each individual student’s needs while enabling them to overcome any barriers and challenges they encounter throughout the course.
Online courses are self-paced and require students to manage their own time to complete the course successfully. On this note, I argue that most of the time, the learner works in isolation and the course is mainly managed by the learner. Online courses are not suitable for students not having sufficient confidence to follow self-directed studies. As stated by online mentor Professor Hossein Arsham (2002), “An online class is not for you if you have always chosen to sit in the back of the classroom, because more responsibility is put on the learner in an online class.”

Interpretive Comment: Unique Style

Every learner has a unique experience dealing with online course environments, and mine is no different. The online course environment motivated me to develop time management skills and exercise more self-discipline so I could successfully complete each course while developing online instruction skills and earning my certificate in online teaching. In addition, this certificate program inspired me to develop a better knowledge of computers and social media that will help me throughout my life and career as I continue to learn more about not only effective use of new technology, but how to efficiently adopt it to create and deliver quality curriculums and content capable of engaging and wowing learners.
As an online instructor, I will respect learners’ diverse experiences by designing activities honoring a learner-centered environment which helps to translate personal experience into academic experience and knowledge. 
To me, adopting activities which enhance students’ engagement through online discussion is key to creating an online community among peers and among students/instructors. For example, live chats among students are the best approach to creating in-depth online dialogue, reflection and exchange of ideas. Organizing a live chat that fits with everyone’s schedule can be a challenge, but it is possible when there are several time slots for students to join. 

Decisional comment:  

Regarding the significant impact of an activity on the online learning environment, Conrad and Donaldson (2011) wrote “While the technology should not be the primary focus when planning an activity, choosing the most effective means of conducting the activity will be an important contributor to its success. For example, a reflective activity that is conducted using a synchronous chat may turn into a reactive exercise in which learners are typing too quickly to think as deeply as they might in an asynchronous discussion (pp. 21-22).”
Since my teaching philosophy is inspired by experiential-cooperative learning, I believe that good teaching methods use active learning techniques. This means that learning requires an active environment allowing students to discuss issues relevant to the course, and write reflectively on important issues allowing them to apply their past experiences to current ones.
As a learner, I feel fortunate living in a country that does not limit my access to the internet, communication tools and social media.  I will take advantage of opportunities to combine communication tools such as webcasting, instant messaging, assignment drop box, group discussion, chat lines, email, skype, blogs, group wikis, etc. to create a sense of community among learners and to engage students in active learning as I teach my own online courses.

Arsham, H. (2002). Interactive Education: Impact of the Internet on Learning & Technology. Retrieved on Feb 25, 2014 from
Conrad, R. M. & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the Online Learner: Activities and Resources for Creative Instruction. Jossey-Bass Wiley Imprint: San Francisco.

Using Quality Guidelines in eLearning

Using Quality Guidelines in eLearning
By Sedi Minachi
Objective: Quality Guidelines
The objective of this journal is to explore what goes into creating and conducting a quality course following guidelines for online course development. Many people know how convenient online or distance education is in terms of the flexibility it provides learners to choose their hours of study and location. Online courses have become increasingly popular since the first online courses following the introduction of the internet in the 1990s, and many learners, especially adults, prefer to take online courses instead of taking in physical classrooms. The goal of educators is to develop knowledge and build skills, and learners are increasingly choosing distance education when given this opportunity. It’s for this reason that educators must provide relevant, quality, effective distance learning courses enabling learners to meet their educational goals.
Negative Reputations in the Absence of Quality Guidelines
While online course instructors may not set quality guidelines, any lack of attention to course quality on their part can lead to chaos and confusion among learners who become less impressed with distance education. In addition, learners have the potential to become discouraged and may not continue enrolling in other online courses, possibly creating negative reputations for online programs.  For example, I took an online ‘mediation and conflict resolution’ course a few years ago through a European institution. I enrolled in it because the course description promised its instructor was a well-known scholar in the field of conflict resolution. However, when the course started, we, the learners were disappointed to learn that an unknown instructor living in a country with poor internet connectivity was assigned to teach it.  The course was a disaster for many reasons I describe below. Firstly, the instructor was absent most of the time and rarely responded to our emails, and tried to justify his unavailability/lack of support by saying to his class that he travelled frequently to participate in various conferences. Secondly, the course objective was vague and did not have clear instructions or guidelines, and the learners did not know what the course expectations were. We found this both disappointing and frustrating. While the students including myself were confused about what to do, a few of us decided to inform the course administrator.
We were further frustrated when we also found her unresponsive and seemingly uncaring. Almost half of the class participants dropped out of the course and those who finished it felt that we did not gain skills or knowledge in the field of mediation and conflict resolution. My final disappointment came when the course finished and I expected to receive a certificate as promised in the course description. Several months passed and I did not receive the certificate or any response from the course administrator. I felt that my time and money was wasted and contacted a scholar who originally told me about this course. To make a long story short, I finally - after one year of ongoing communication with the director of the institution - received my certificate, and the only other good news is that my prodding enabled other students to receive theirs as well.
Quality Checklist for Online Courses
For an instructor to design and deliver an effective online course, it is essential they follow certain criteria and guidelines.  According to Barker (2002), both instructors and learners are interested in acquiring education and training that are effective and efficient. In reading Barker’s “Canadian Recommended E-learning Guidelines”, I gained a better understanding of the importance of the elearning course guidelines and would adopt the following general checklist based on her paper:
Organized: The course should be facilitated in an organized way to minimize confusion and frustration. For example, the instructor should be easily accessible to the learners’ community and have regular office hours. The course syllabus should clearly include course description, learning objectives, completion requirements, course material, additional learning resources, course activities and required assignments. 
Quality Content: The course must have good quality content addressing learners’ needs and identifies course material relevant to the course’s goals and objectives. In my opinion, good quality content not only helps the instructor to ensure the course is learner-centered and meaningful, it also provides learners with relevant skills and knowledge.
Presentation: The material must be presented clearly, professionally and be user friendly.
Technology: The technology needs to be reliable and easily accessible to the learning community wherever they are. Furthermore, it should enable learners to actively engage with each other in the construction of knowledge and should provide assistance, guidance and communication to the learners’ community. It also needs to be easily updatable, reliable and navigable.  
Supports Learners’ self-directed learning:  The course should be designed to respect learners’ flexibility, and allow them to progress at their own pace with respect to interacting with the learning community.  
Admission information: The course should state any admission/degree requirement and prerequisites, the curriculum overview, specific delivery format, and grading methods. In addition, it should state learning assessment procedures and evaluation criteria, tuition fees, books/materials, equipment, institutional regulations, policies on plagiarism, entry-level technical skills, and course evaluations.
Reflective: Personal Experiences
I have taken four online courses including this one. Aside from the negative experience I had during the ‘mediation and conflict resolution’ course described earlier in this paper, my VCC elearning experiences have been great. Like most elearning students, I expect to receive a high quality education, and my goal is to design and deliver an efficient and effective online course so that learners can smoothly complete it successfully. 
Interpretive: Meaning of the Guidelines
            As technology continues to develop and more learners take advantage of online programs, the need for designers capable of creating effective, high quality online courses increases. To create courses of this caliber, I must incorporate guidelines reflective of my learners’ needs and perceptions. The negative experience I had in the ‘mediation and conflict resolution’ online course did not discourage me from taking more online courses. However, it motivated me to become involved in this profession to do this right and design an elearning course based on ethical guidelines maximizing opportunities for the learners’ community to acquire knowledge and meaningful skills.
Decisional: Concluding Remarks
As a growing method of education, elearning courses must be designed and delivered with care within the framework of standard guidelines so that the learners are able to successfully complete their courses and fulfill their educational goals. From my own experiences, and by reading elearning guidelines for creating and delivering effective courses, I learned about the importance of ensuring high quality design in all online courses and am determined to deepen my knowledge of how to do this. Finally, with respect to recommendations offered by Barker (2002), I will incorporate all the standard guidelines when structuring, designing and developing learner-centered online courses. 

Work Cited
Barker, K. (2002) Canadian Recommended E-learning Guidelines (CanREGs). Published by Future Ed
and Canadian Association for Community Education. Retrieved on Dec 18, 2013 from

Faculty Resistance to Online Learning

Faculty Resistance to Online Learning

By Sedi Minachi
Objective Questions: What I know about the topic.

Online courses open up exciting new possibilities to both instructors and students when designed efficiently and taught effectively. Among the many benefits they offer instructors is the fact that they no longer need to deliver lectures standing in front of students in a lecture hall or classroom, and can instead choose any location convenient to them as they interact with and engage students online.  Despite online courses offering increased opportunities to teaching institutions, instructors and students, as argued by Bates (2012), many faculty resist creating and teaching online courses, giving the impression they do not want to deal with online teaching.

Tony Bates (2011) conducted extensive research on online teaching within the Canadian and American context outlines the following five factors as major systemic barriers/limitations of instructors to e-learning and distance learning: (1) Faculty resistance, (2) Lack of training for teaching faculty, (3) Lack of institutional ambition for the use of technology in teaching, (4) Lack of adequate costing methods, (5) Lack of system – wide provision for distance education programs, (6) Poor quality offerings, and (7) Lack of data on Canadian online and distance education.

Meanwhile, Bates explains that one of the key reasons for faculty resistance to online and distance education is their lack of knowledge or understanding of pedagogy and theories of teaching and learning. He further argues that many faculty members working in higher education do not have teacher training and their teaching methods are based on traditional classroom settings that they themselves have experienced when they were students. 

The Objective of this journal is to explore briefly the key reasons behind faculty resistance to their organizations offering online courses, and to explore ways to overcome this resistance.  

Reflective Questions: Why I chose this topic and how I identify with it.

I chose this topic because I agree with Bates that many faculty members working in higher education do not have teacher training and their teaching methods are based on their own experiences within the framework of the traditional classroom setting.

Bates’ research findings reminded me of my own classroom experience in undergraduate and graduate school where almost no online courses matching my interest were available despite the accessibility of fast internet service on and off campus.

As a student, I was sometimes frustrated by professors who followed rigid class structure by delivering long lectures and evaluated students’ learning only through quizzes, tests and exams.  I assume professors whose model of teaching is the rigid-traditional teaching method are reluctant to embrace delivering instruction online.  

On the one hand, the issue of faculty members resisting designing and delivering online courses needs to be addressed promptly, because computers and related interactive technologies have transformed every aspect of our lives, and educational institutions need to commit to developing more online instruction skills among their faculty. On the other hand, the faculty needs to take advantage of valuable teaching opportunities benefiting themselves and learners.

Steven A. Lloyd (2012) who studied factors contributing to barriers among faculty groups engaging in online instruction, found interpersonal and institutional barriers, lack of training in technology and cost/benefit analysis barriers were largely responsible for faculty resisting embracing online instruction. 

Interpretive Question: What this new learning mean to me.

In these transformative years new technology and social media play significant roles in the development of younger generations of students, and there is a strong and growing need for schools to expand their online course offerings and to promote this method of course delivery more among faculty members by training them how best to design engaging courses and deliver content to online, distant learners.

In reading Bates (2011) and Lloyd (2012) on the topic of faculty resistance to online teaching, I learned that educational institutions need to pay more attention to firstly raising awareness among their faculty of the benefits of online instruction, and secondly to training faculty members in becoming skillful designers and deliverers of online courses. In my perspective, every faculty should offer students the option of taking either online or in-class courses for all courses offered within a program.

I think that faculty resistance will continue and students will have limited access to quality online courses and programs in the absence of assistance and facilitation from management backing the fast-tracking of organization-wide e-learning initiatives.

Decisional Question: How this new learning can be applied in my online course.

I decided to take the certificate online teaching program at VCC College to gain knowledge about online teaching methods and develop skills to design and deliver online curricula.  I agree with Bates (2011) that nowadays, the new generation of students has access to many kinds of new technology such as mobile phones with camera and audio recording capabilities, access to low cost video cameras, and access to video editing through software on their laptops and video publishing through YouTube.
They are therefore able to publish their work on the internet and access a multitude of resources far beyond the limits of a traditional class curriculum.  With the help of email, online videos, video conferencing and social media, they are able to perform course activities outside the traditional classroom without putting a foot on campus.

By being aware of the great opportunities new technological tools provide to everyone including students, I hope to soon read research findings that show majority of instructors are increasingly embracing online course delivery and finding even more effective ways to teach online learners.

Once institutions understand the barriers to faculty resisting online teaching, I think they should take initiatives to train their staff in online course delivery and ask each faculty member to teach one or more online courses to help them become better at teaching online learners.


Lloyd, S. A. & Byrne, M. M. & McCoy, T. S. (2012). Faculty-Perceived Barriers of Online Education. Merlot Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, vol 8 (1), 2012. Retrieved on Feb 13, 2014 from
Faculty Training is a Major Investment for Online Ed Programs: ADA Compliance Remains a Major Vulnerability.  Retrieved Feb 13, 2014 from
Bates, T. (2011) 2011 outlook for online learning and distance education
 Contact North. Retrieved Feb 10, 2014 from: