Fostering a community between instructors and students and among the students is an integral part of creating an successful online course. There are several aspects of the community, each of which is covered in a separate page:
- Announcements and optional material for course staff to communicate things such as reminders of upcoming events, deadlines, or the location of extra course material
- Community discussion mechanisms, such as a web forum, for students to interact with each other, asking and answering their questions
- Online office hours, to allow course staff and students to interact in real time
- Teaching assistants talking to your students
Why do you want to foster community among your students? There are several important reasons:
- If your students feel they are supported by humans throughout the course, their motivation and determination increase.
- If your course ultimately has a high volume of student participation, you cannot effectively answer all of your students' questions, even if you have a small army of teaching assistants. With a community, students are much more likely to get answers to their questions.
- Even if you and your assistants could answer everybody, you might not be the right people to answer questions. Peer instruction can be better than expert instruction. Peers remember what it’s like to not know the material; you and your assistants may have forgotten.
- You can use the community to address differences in students' abilities. For example, you can design the primary course materials for the "average" student and then post both background material and advanced material for students with more or less knowledge. This method lets you help a wider audience while keeping the primary material focused.
One of your goals with a student community is to have your students support each other as much as possible.