September 8, 2021

We Belong

How Fostering Community Can Transform Online Learning

What is the magic ingredient that empowers students to show up for learning even when they don’t have to? Sure, lots of students participate in learning experiences — online, traditional, or anywhere in between — when they are required to do so. But how can educators create learning environments where students are not only invited to stop by, but where they genuinely want to be?

The answer is simple: it’s all about community. When we build learning spaces where students can connect meaningfully to one another and be a part of something larger than themselves, we create spaces where they feel a sense of belonging, where they know their presence matters to others, where they can learn from others or help others to learn — in short, we create spaces where students choose to be and learn.

Dr. Narine Hall explains that a virtual community involves the use of many different spaces where different kinds of learning and collaboration take place. Why? Because students bring a myriad of learning needs to any given situation, and just one room with one purpose only can’t possibly meet every need. One room might be devoted to discussing coursework, another might be a place to get help from a professor, while yet another might function as a casual drop-in space where students can wander in at any time to see if classmates are putting their heads together on homework.

A key element to making these virtual communities work, says Dr. Hall, is a chat function that lets students continue their conversations in whatever virtual environments they go to. When chat is both synchronous and asynchronous, it gives students the freedom to respond whenever it suits them. Furthermore, to truly do its job of connecting learners together meaningfully, chat should exist inside of learning management systems so that students don’t need to switch platforms just to communicate.

Dr. Hall’s understanding of virtual communities led her team of engineers to develop InSpace’s seamless integration into Canvas earlier this summer, enabling teachers to effortlessly grow course-based learning communities using InSpace’s unique office hours, study spaces, and chat features within the learning management system. 

A key element to making these virtual communities work is a chat function that lets students continue their conversations in whatever virtual environments they go to.

Dr. Narine Hall

Educators who use InSpace in Canvas enjoy virtual spaces where students can talk one-on-one with teachers, drop into a virtual study space that is always open, or meet socially to connect and share. Additionally, InSpace’s Canvas-based chat feature allows students to stay connected synchronously or asynchronously without leaving the Canvas platform.

Educators tell us they love these new features, and report that students are showing up in their virtual spaces and on course chat streams even when they are not required to do so. Students are choosing to show up, and staying once they’re there. Using InSpace in Canvas, students are growing their own learning community.

What are your dreams for growing robust virtual communities in your learning spaces? How can we make learning communities even stronger for students? If you have ideas, we want to hear them!