Oliver explained that WSU’s decision to partner with Pearson’s online community platform, Embanet, was spurred by the need to leverage faculty expertise in a very competitive environment.
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From what Oliver observed with students, “opportunities to engage with content that is associated with a faculty voice (i.e. lectures, video, faculty anecdotes, et cetera) as well as faculty discussions either in writing or in person are the hallmarks of the students’ satisfaction with the online community.”
Key characteristics of an online learning community, said Oliver, are
- Colleagues with diverse, well-grounded perspectives.
- New and interesting information (curriculum) over which the students can engage in intellectual discourse.
- Opportunities to engage with a facilitator (faculty member) who can encourage the dialogue and present various arguments for consideration.
- Space for small and large group discussion, as well as areas to interact with content.
In terms of IT infrastructure, Oliver noted that since consumers are “used to living and working in a fast-paced environment with information at their fingertips, our institutions have to create infrastructure for our learning communities that can keep up with the ‘real world’.”
Personalizing the platform is also important, she emphasized, since, rather than “box up a brick-and-mortar experience and try to duplicate it online, we have examined the important principles of a brick-and-mortar experience (social connection, interactivity with the curriculum, exploration of self, and more) and created opportunities for students to engage in those experiences with technology.”
Oliver revealed that both WSU’s “on campus” and online communities are “thriving” and have high retention and graduation rates—greater than or equal to 98 percent.
For the future, Oliver speculates that learning communities will be informal, “like the days where students would see their faculty member or a leader of the institution at the corner bar and engage in discourse and invention in a casual environment; think back to napkin strategy meetings.”
“In the future generation of learning communities,” she continued, “people may not be in a formal Learning Management System (LMS), but in a social environment that they use in work and life to engage and learn, create and collaborate.”
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