Building a Community: Using Technology to Create a Sense of Belonging for Online Students

Concurrent Session 9

Brief Abstract

This session will explore how Oregon State University Ecampus collaborated across multiple departments to recreate and reimagine their Canvas-based success course into an interactive learning community for students throughout their degree program. We will share tips on ways to successfully launch your own online learning community with user-friendly design strategies.


I am fascinated by the intersection of human connectedness and technology. I currently support Oregon State Ecampus students who are studying online with academic and holistic coaching. I seek connections in learner development and explore the intrinsic motivation within each individual. I also partner with our curriculum and development team to help create engaging online communities, update and maintain websites, and design mobile technologies. I approach each day with an eagerness to innovate and ideate and am fortunate to work with a team that supports this type of learner centered work.
As a student success counselor, I work with our online learners to navigate the university and provide support. I also serve as a point of contact for students to help answer questions and be a resource for their individual success. Our main focus is to coach students into identifying their own definition of success and providing guidance and resources in helping them achieve their success.
Amy L. Munger has a passion for bringing education to life, creating environments that are dynamic, engaging, and meaningful. She is dedicated to both experiential education and instructional design, daring students to define and develop into their best selves. Having worked in both in K-12 and higher education settings, she loves working with students and faculty members to enrich learning with technology. Amy received her MSEd in Information Technology degree from Western Oregon University with a certificate in Instructional Design and a BA in Peace and Justice Studies with a minor in Spanish from Regis University. Amy’s passions include education, service, sustainability, community and justice. Amy’s hobbies include family, board games, hiking, soccer, ultimate, stand-up comedy and eating.

Extended Abstract

Creating an environment that helps promote a sense of belonging for online students can be challenging. Research has shown that students who feel connected to their peers, instructors, and to their university possess higher levels of satisfaction (Richardson, 2017; Diep, 2017; Sahin, 2007). In an online setting, how do we utilize the educational tools at hand to create authentic opportunities for students to engage in the level of connectedness that they desire? This session is focused on the development of an interactive, Canvas-based learning community for online students at Oregon State University to meet this need.

Inspired by the work done at Indiana University to incorporate onboarding and orientation through Canvas, the OSU Ecampus student success team has partnered with our curriculum and development team to reimagine the potential of our First Term Success course, which was implemented in the fall of 2016. Initially targeted as a temporary support for new and transfer students, the First Term Success course consistently reached a 95-97% acceptance rate, but had limited opportunities for engagement and peer-to-peer connection. By collaborating with multiple Ecampus units including instructional designers, multimedia specialists, and student success professionals, the redesigned Ecampus Learning Community (ELC) will now serve as a comprehensive online resource. The purpose of the ELC is to provide a centralized community, connect students to each other, provide additional resources, and support them throughout their online education.

With the help of an instructional designer, this community has become significantly more interactive, personalized, and student-centered. Some of the new features include:

·         Personalized videos

·         Interactive menus

·         H5P content incorporated throughout

·         Program-specific content and resources

·         Connection to social media

·         Quick access to student support professionals

·         Student affinity groups

·         Feedback options for each module

By updating the navigation, reorganizing and developing content, and improving the look we have made it easier to find the resources students need when they need it. The intention in redeveloping the course was to create a resource students can connect with at any time and use when appropriate for them. The goal is to help students interact with each other and their support resources to ease their transition and provide ongoing support. Ultimately, our hope is to promote a positive student experience from admission to graduation.

During this emerging ideas session, the audience will have access to the Ecampus Learning Community (ELC) content in Canvas and experience the site firsthand. We will spend the first 10-15 minutes reviewing the goals of this learning community, and providing an overview of the pilot version we are launching in the fall term of 2018. Participants will then have time to explore the ELC, and provide feedback (in person and/or through our Canvas discussion forum within the site). Assessment data will be provided for the pilot term along with student survey results.

We are interested in hearing feedback from the community on both the design and user experience of this site, and discuss how we can improve the functionality for the larger goal of building connection online. Some components that we are looking to develop in the future include:

·         Tutoring resources by location

·         Peer mentoring

·         Student-created content

·         Increased Canvas app-integration (Search tools, FlipGrid, etc.)

·         An area for students to report challenges or issues in their academic courses

·         The ability for students to find and connect with other Ecampus students in their area (if desired)

Attendees will be provided with an outline of how to begin the creation of an online student community in Canvas, including a list of the resources our team has utilized during the development of the Ecampus Learning Community. We will also share a digital copy of the feedback and ideas generated in our discussion within the Canvas site, or by e-mail if preferred. We look forward to ideating with you!