Fostering a Community of Support Inside and Outside the Virtual Classroom

Concurrent Session 3

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Are your online students receiving the support they need both inside and outside the classroom, to insure success? Join Angela Gibson and Sharon Goldstein (Berkeley College) as we spotlight and explore various ways to bolster virtual support.   Leave with a portfolio of ideas you can implement immediately!



Sharon Goldstein was appointed Campus Operating Officer for Berkeley College Online in January 2007. Ms. Goldstein oversees day-to-day operations, finances, student and staff retention, space management, creative programming, community outreach and expansion. She joined Berkeley College in 2003 as the Director of Career Services. Prior to joining Berkeley College, Ms. Goldstein spent 15 years working as a recruiter in the staffing industry and holds the CPC (Certified Personnel Consultant) designation. Sharon is currently serving as co-chairperson of the 2018 OLC Accelerate conference. Additionally, Sharon serves as an Advisory Board Member of Stevens Institute of Technology, Web Campus. Ms. Goldstein has also served as a Board Member for United States Distance Learning Association, and the Tri-County Chamber of Commerce. Ms. Goldstein was recently named a Fellow and inducted into the 2018 Lead NJ class and is a graduate of both Leadership Berkeley and Leadership Paterson. Sharon has been serving as a mentor in the Leadership Berkeley program since 2008. She is a passionate advocate on the subject of work/life balance and delivers keynotes and workshops based upon her “Feeling of Balance” concept.
Dr. Angela M. Gibson serves as Lecturer in the Higher Education Administration Leadership doctoral certificate program and the Adult Education graduate program at Texas A and M University - Kingsville. Additionally, she serves as faculty for the Online Learning Consortium Institute for Professional Development teaching in the Online Teaching Certificate Program, designing and facilitating professional training, and serving as a mentor to professional educators. She is also a Contributing Faculty and Doctoral Advisor for the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences in the Doctor of Education program. She has taught first-year, undergraduate, graduate, doctoral, and professional students, designed and developed curriculum, and created initiatives and strategic planning for student engagement, first-year experience, strategic learning, and innovation. Dr. Gibson has over 25 years experience in higher education, academics, and student affairs at a diverse set of colleges and universities. She made the rank of Professor at American Public University. Angela received a M.A. in Human Performance Systems, with a Graduate Certificate in Instructional Design, from Marymount University, and an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, with concentrations in Adult Education and Community College Education, from Texas A and M University - Kingsville. She has been published in various peer reviewed journals, is on journal editorial boards, presents at national and international conferences, and served on the Online Learning Conference Steering Committee and was the 2017 Chair of the Technology Test Kitchen. In 2019, Angela was a Campfire Keynote Speaker for the OLC Innovate Conference. Dr. Gibson is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador and volunteers as an informal STEM educator creating learning opportunities at schools and community organizations as well as providing social media outreach for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). She is a recipient of the Online Learning Consortium 2014 Effective Practice Award. In 2021 Dr. Gibson received the USAHS Board Excellence Award for Excellence in Teaching Award.

Extended Abstract

Session Learning Outcomes:

1) Explore various strategies for virtual community building and support which can be threaded through the design and delivery of instruction in blended and online classes.

2) Discover creative approaches for engaging distance learners outside the virtual classroom that can be immediately implemented in any online program.

3) Understand how intentional planning and feedback are used to foster continuous improvement.


Inside the Classroom - Developing a Community of Support

As college academic faculty and staff focus on preparing the course content for the next semester cycle, the community development in the classroom that promotes success amongst virtual learners may be an afterthought. Considerations for curricular and co-curricular community building and support for virtual learners can threaded through the design and delivery of instruction in blended and online classes. Such purposeful designs offer avenues to opportunities otherwise shut off to the virtual student and also offer networking and referrals to individuals and resources of which the student may not be aware.

Clinics - A Little Extra Help

From the literature, and from effective practice, when there is increased interactivity and social presence in an online classroom, there is also an increase in the perceived engagement and connection of the student in their learning (Tu & McIsaac, 2010). Even in fully asynchronous learning environments when the student has awareness of the nature of the classroom, where the interaction is not in real time, personal participation and connections outside of the required course work is shown to benefit the learner and increase engagement (Hrastinski, 2008).

The virtual meeting room can offer an extension to the classroom; a place to offer additional learning, to provide additional help, and to promote additional community (Kelly, 2014). Sometimes the virtual meeting room is the only time the learner may have synchronous interaction with the faculty. As such, there are opportunities for real time connections while still providing the elearning classroom as a place for follow up upon further reflection of the interaction.

Students are further supported and community is built through effective use of LMS based, paid for, and/or free virtual meeting tools such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, WebEx, Blackboard Ultra, Skype Meetings, or even Google Hangouts. Faculty can offer scheduled meeting times such as regular office hours where students can drop in or set a time to meet. 

However, as an opportunity to support the virtual learner and create further community, instructors can offer content focused sessions. Such sessions may be focused on topics such as APA citation and reference practice or how to develop certain study skills connected to the class or brainstorming on research topics and initial search strategies. Also, such sessions could be content focused.  The instructor may offer a sessions where a particular course topic is further discussed, or an article for a week’s lesson is the focus of live conversation, or some items offered on a certain subject, which were not included in the course content as they arose after the course started. Such sessions can be recorded for those interested in leveraging the additional skill and knowledge learning though unable to attend live.


Integration of library resources, including the librarians themselves, in the instructional design and delivery of class can deepen student learning, further engage students with the library, and set up support networks for further skill and knowledge development.

Awareness of how to increase quality instruction through application and integration of content and resources from libraries at colleges and universities will promote and increase teaching excellence within the class and at the institution (Association of College and Research Libraries, 2017).  Faculty and staff collaboration open lines of communication which promote sharing of resources as well as problem solving for instructional issues in the classroom. Development of assets with library content to address learning of content and of success strategies increases engagement with students through communication and also increases student efficacy in concept learning.

Challenges to online learning can disconnect students from instructional content.  Library anxiety in the form of fear and shame prevent students from confidently seeking assistance from librarians (McPherson, 2015; Mellon, 1986), compound frustration with an online library environment.  Learners become disengaged and frustrated.  Combined with flat and/or heavily text-based classrooms, the student can find obstacles to research and learning at every corner.

Collaboration between instructors and librarians can foster effective and engaging learning within the classroom while promoting a further support system for knowledge and skill development outside the classroom.  The student, who connects with a librarian in the class, will then have a go to person outside of the classroom for the length of their academic journey at the institution.

Additionally, the necessity to connect, engage, and support our online learners outside the classroom becomes more and more essential. Research shows that, in the online environment, student success is directly linked to student engagement. While traditional campus-based students can take advantage of an array of social activities, online students may feel disconnected from their peers and academic institution.

This presentation will focus on innovative approaches to online student engagement.  Examples will include our Virtual Common Hour, Online Book Club, Digital Art and Creativity Festival, Online Essay Contest, Virtual Scavenger Hunts, Live-Streamed Guest Speaker Events, Online New Student Orientation, Virtual Field Trips, Online Community Service initiatives, Yammer for Students, and Online Student Advisory Board. Come discover creative strategies for engaging distance learners that you can immediately implement in your own online program!

An open conversation is encouraged, where participants discuss their perspectives and experiences in relation to the subject matter and explore implementation of strategies at their institutions.  Sharing of appropriate links and resources will occur.