How to Facilitate an Online Course and Community on OpenLearning

In an online course, facilitation doesn’t just begin when the course opens.

It starts before your students enter the course and works best with a proactive and nurturing approach.

There are several ways to facilitate an online course and build a thriving community on OpenLearning.

Seed your community

No one wants to be the first person at the party so get this ‘party started’ by seeding the community before the course starts.

Seeding refers to creating the first talking points, completing some activities and sharing your ideas (like planting seeds) so that when students first enter the course, there is already plenty of activity for them to get involved.

This is also when you should be setting expectations and modelling ideal responses so students know what type of responses they should be contributing.

Engage with your community

In the early stages of a course, it’s up to you to ensure that students’ contributions are being valued and heard.

Particularly for the first two weeks, you should have a strong online presence, posting and commenting or ‘liking’ students’ posts, to welcome them into the course and offer positive reinforcement.

The language you use in your interactions is very important. Using a tone that is relaxed, friendly and positive will help to create an environment where students feel comfortable to share their ideas, ask questions and discuss freely without judgement. This will also help with promoting peer-to-peer interaction.

Promote social learning

With the right environment, students will start turning to each other for help and support. You can also boost this by doing the following:

Engage rather than tell: When complex questions arise within the community, don’t provide the answer immediately. Instead, suggest ways for students to find the answers for themselves or involve peer-to-peer discussion, feedback and collaboration.

Know when to step back: Provide time and opportunities for other students to answer each others’ queries or provide assistance. Over time, students will learn to take greater ownership for the learning community and become more involved without depending on your guidance.

Maintain your presence by continuing to like students’ comments and posts, along with a few key comments and replies!

Keep learning on track

Liking and commenting

Aim to spend an hour each day on the platform, going through the pages and liking or commenting on students’ posts. Check your notifications for interactions that need responding to and have fun engaging with the community.

You can also observe and manage community engagement using the following tools:

Student progress

In the Navigation Bar, click Administer Students > Students to see a percentage of the course completed by each student. This can help you locate areas where further support might be needed.

Analytics

You can find Analytics also under Administer Students. This page offers more detailed information on student engagement such as:

  • How many comments have been made on each page,
  • Which page has the most activity,
  • Average time spent on each page

You can filter the data to Pages, Students or Comments.

Announcements

Creating announcements will send an email and a notification to all students in the cohort. This is great for staying in touch with students on a regular basis, reminding them of approaching deadlines as well as sharing upcoming topics in the course.

Moderating students’ posts: If necessary, you can also report inappropriate comments and flag spoilers. Flagging comments as spoilers hides the comment and gives students the option to reveal it manually. Reporting comments as inappropriate or disliking comments will hide the comment from the community.

You can find these options under the drop down menu located in the top right hand corner of any comment.

Watch the community take off

As the community becomes more active and more self-directed, learning will take place organically. At this point, enjoy watching the community encourage each other’s learning!

You can stay on hand to provide extra support when necessary and continue to maintain the rapport and connections you’ve made with students throughout the course.

This is Part 3 in our series on Facilitation. Click here to read Part 1, The Benefits of Facilitation for an Active Learning Community or here to read Part 2, 5 Practical Ways to Enhance the Online Learning Experience with Facilitation.