In their book, Building Online Learning Communities: Effective strategies for the virtual classroom, Palloff and Pratt emphasize that one of the challenges of developing an online course, whether it be for student learning or professional development, is to “actively engage the online learning process” a key make it so that “the content of the course should be embedded in everyday life.” (Paloff and Pratt 2007)
It’s a challenge that teachers face on a regular basis in any setting, but creating an online atmosphere that is authentic, applicable, and engaging has its own set of challenges. In his online article, Promoting Online Interaction in Today’s Colleges and Universities, Muirhead brings up a point that, to some, may be obvious. “A major advantage to [computer-mediated learning] is that students appreciate and enjoy the learning process to a greater degree when they have the opportunity to freely share with their instructor and colleagues.” (Muirhead, 2002)
How does this relate to making a course applicable to embedding a course in everyday life? Real-world interaction, whether it be between real-life colleagues at work, or online classmates, is a key aspect to a successful collegial relationship. Hypothetical and theoretical interaction can be effective, but applying those theories to everyday life and work will make them much more effective (Muirhead, 2002).
Muirhead, B. (2002, July). Usdla journal. Retrieved from http://www.usdla.org/html/journal/JUL02_Issue/article04.html
An online learning community can be an amazing tool that can connect teachers and students from all walks of life in all areas of the world. However, simply creating an online community with the great, vast area that is the internet is not enough to have people endlessly joining and using it properly.
A good online learning community has members with a common goal, whether it be social interaction or education, as well as (and this is key) active participation. Palloff and Pratt make an excellent point in their book, Building Online Learning Communities (2007) that “An online learning community cannot be created by one person…participants have a responsibility to make community happen.” (Paloff and Pratt 2007).
Take the infamous Facebook for example. While Mark Zuckerberg did indeed create the original Facebook, it took thousands and later, millions of people actively participating in the concept to create the community that we know as Facebook today.
An online class or community needs to have a desired outcome and common goal in order to be successful, and using a class format to create a learning community can force together people who otherwise wouldn’t have interacted, and allow them to interact. Often, class instructors will require interaction through a discussion board, and this will foster discussion.
Prammanee (2003) makes an interesting correlation between the interaction between learners and teachers: “Interaction is one of the most important elements of online instruction because it is helpful for learners in getting feedback from the instructor about their performance in course-related activities and also for encouraging learners to engage in active learning” (Prammanee 2003). There are various types of interaction, ranging from learner-learner to learner-instructor, and the interactions occur when the two parties influence each other. (Prammanee 2003)
So, in short, an online learning community cannot be a true community without real and authentic interaction among its participants and facilitator. Without said active participation, a community would be just a bunch of people who happened to read the same thing online.
Pallof, R., & Pratt, K. (2007). Building online learning communities. (2 ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey–Bass.
Prammanee, N. (2003, March). Understanding participation in online courses:. Retrieved from http://itforum.coe.uga.edu/paper68/paper68.html
While creating and participation in a professional learning community (PLC) can be a completely beneficial aspect of the teaching experience, it is difficult to discuss the benefits without also discussing the inevitable challenges that may be faced.
DuFour & DuFour (2010) emphasize that the focus of the PLC should be on learning, collaboration, and results, with an emphasis on using the results to assist in more effective teaching. Said results are generated by using common assessments across all classrooms in the same subject, and then analyzing the results to focus on areas of instruction that may need improvement. (DuFour 2010) The challenges arise, however, with a school staff that may not be accustomed to collaborating with all staff members who teach the same subject. Many times, plan periods and out-of-school time are set aside for grading and individual planning for one’s own class. Creating and implementing an effective PLC requires significant time, and often a change in one’s own planning schedule. According to Melanie Morrissey, author of Professional Learning Communities: An Ongoing Exploration, “Finding a way to set aside this kind of time in schools may be one of the most difficult challenges to school improvement facilitators.” (Morrissey, 2000)
Morrissey goes on to emphasize that “a professional learning community is most successful when it is used as an infrastructure to support a school staff’s vision and goals for improvement.” (Morrissey, 2000) This is key, as many times, creating a PLC can be more or less forced on a staff who otherwise would not collaborate. Jumping head-first into being a PLC from a formerly non-collaborative staff can cause issues, as the mission and vision of the group may be self-serving as opposed to a more effective, student-centered and instruction-centered mission and vision.
A school staff needs to be ready and willing to change the manner in which they plan, meet, assess, and instruct in order for a PLC to be successful. Change is never easy, especially when it comes to one’s work, but teachers who are reluctant participants in the PLC need be reminded of one important fact: an effective PLC can improve instruction and student learning. (DuFour, 2010)
DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & Many, T. (2010). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work. (Second Edition ed., pp. 59-153). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Morrissey, M. (2000). Professional learning communities:. Retrieved from http://allthingsplc.info/pdf/articles/plc-ongoing.pdf