How You Would Develop And Sustain Faculty Presence Within The Online Learning Community.

An engagement director with Multi Channel Network.

By Michael Rackley

There are two types of college students who need to take classes online: two things: people who don’t have time to spend days in a classroom or who prefer the personalized attention that classes provide in an online setting. The second thing is a student in an advanced degree program who has time to finish all of her classes in one semester, but no time to take a specific class online. Often, a strong presence in the online learning community helps make class more personalized and encourages faculty members to incorporate skills, tactics, and ideas from their online experience that they might not ordinarily share with their full class. After all, why would you teach a course if you didn’t know what to expect when your students have the online equivalent of a teacher, a dean, a support team, and a tax accountant?

There is also an industry that exists that enables professors and others to be lifelong learners. For example, there are study partners. So students find people online or through offline social outlets who they will chat with regularly about, study with regularly in class, email, text, email, or call, or research with periodically online. Whenever we talk about advances in technology, we usually discuss how advances in information accessibility are turning us from a sharing economy into a communicative economy. By 2050, the United Nations predicts, 80 percent of the world’s population will be living in urban areas. Many cities, like ours, are promoting walkable downtowns that encourage people to move to the heart of the city and beyond. Online learning is moving us towards a type of society that encourages the sharing of learning resources so you can’t live and learn at the same time.

According to Yahoo Learn, a network of online learning community sites, by the end of 2016, there were 28.8 million concurrent users on the popular Facebook platform. A college student is now a social network. The question is, does having all of your personal, professional, and health information online make you better or worse at what you do?

First, it isn’t all about you, either. Social networks aren’t a big data mine. It’s hard to definitively link a student’s performance in a class to a specific Facebook post, a LinkedIn post, or an Instagram post. But Facebook and its social graph can, in aggregate, illustrate patterns that reveal a pattern of behavior based on social and collaboration networks in real time. By looking at what your friends and classmates are reading, what you’re “liking,” what other people you follow like, and your degree of engagement with that content, you can get a sense of your potential strengths and weaknesses and also learn about how to elevate your own situation and/or those of others around you. In many ways, social networks can be far more than a mere vehicle for socializing; they are a form of gaming. We all have to compete on an equal playing field—and before we worry about the privacy implications and digital rights of this, we should ask the implications that abound around the size and effectiveness of the competitive industries themselves. What does it say about our society that a company like Facebook, which makes billions from profit, is so fundamentally tied to the freedom of speech and the right to share our identities and their images, isn’t more regulated than the Federal Trade Commission? Or that what CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave away is worth $4.7 billion in stock over the course of the past week?

Most college students and faculty haven’t considered the implications of their social lives when they go to college, but when it comes to relationships, work, and education, their school days must start to mirror what comes first on every social network: Connect. We may never forget we are in school and take time to schedule free time for this, but we also can’t spend the same time connecting with others before, during, and after classes.

The fact is, creating the kind of school community that builds mentorship and mentee connections outside of the classroom can be disruptive and disruptive only when those changes are for the better. If you are the dean or professor of a quality institution who can help you create a more intimate and collegial learning environment for your students, you might consider shifting the focus of your work to meet that challenge. Maybe you should start with just one class or individual student? If so, it might be a great time to look at how social networks can support and enhance your online course-planning and organization process. Here’s to the democratization of the college experience.

Michael Rackley is the director of curriculum and instruction at Brodhead STEM College and School in Baraboo, Wisconsin. He can be reached at jm_r@brodhead.edu.

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