Beyond the Walled Garden: How Social Media and Custom LMS Roles Can Connect Students to Local and Global Communities

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Brief Abstract

Engaging with diverse local and global communities in online asynchronous courses is challenging, where we’re trying to connect students with the world outside of the “walled gardens” of learning management systems. This session suggests three strategies for using social media and custom LMS roles to help break down those walls.



Adam Maksl is an associate professor of journalism and media at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, Indiana. He teaches courses focused on digital journalism and researches news and media literacy. He is also the Faculty Fellow for eLearning Design and Innovation within Indiana University's eLearning Design and Services unit, where he is charged with promoting and supporting innovative teaching and learning, especially in fully online courses, across all Indiana University campuses. Maksl has served as a Journalism & Media Program Coordinator (2016-2019) and the Director of Student Media (2012-2019) at IU Southeast. Under his leadership of student media, his students won hundreds of awards, including national awards such as the Pacemaker, considered by some to be the Pulitzer Prize of college journalism. He is an award-winning teacher, including honors such as the Teacher of the Year award from the Small Programs Interest Group of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and the Honor Roll Newspaper Adviser Award from the College Media Association. Maksl’s research has been published in top-rated journals in his field, including Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly; Journalism & Mass Communication Educator; the Journal of Media Literacy Education; Electronic News; and Cyberpsychology, Behavior & Social Networking. He has co-authored a book focused on news and media literacy, "American Journalism and Fake News: Examining the Facts." Maksl earned his PhD in journalism from the University of Missouri, an MA in journalism from Ball State University, and a BS in secondary journalism education from Indiana University Bloomington.
Adam is an educator and instructional designer with a fondness for backwards design and a passion for all things gaming.

Extended Abstract

Online communities are often criticized as being forums where like-minded and homogenous groups carry on conversations in “echo chambers” (Hampton, Shin, & Lu, 2016) that reinforce existing ideas and leave little room for substantive discourse. That’s especially true about social networking sites like Facebook and Instagram, where algorithms present users with content they think users will like. But the criticism can also be true of instructional spaces, where students and teachers often interact with each other but not with local and global communities or those outside the “ivory tower” of academic. Though various initiatives such as the Carnegie Community Engagement classification have encouraged higher education institutions to do more to interact with and support local communities, such work is difficult in online classes. Where one might bring in a community partner to a face-to-face class, the geographically dispersed learning population and especially asynchronicity of most fully online courses make this difficult. Additionally, many view the learning management systems where most online teaching and learning occurs as “walled gardens” that have traditionally been closed or severely limited to external resources and users (e.g., Kipp, 2018). However, creative strategies for use of traditional social networking sites, academically oriented social networking tools, and creative administration and use of an LMS can help bridge the gap between online learning communities and the local communities where students live and learn and the global communities that distance education uniquely allows students to engage with.


In this session, presenters will showcase three strategies for bringing local and global communities into the online class to enrich the experience of the students registered. The first is using social media as a tool to engage students in broader conversations among non-student groups. One presenter has used social media groups to connect students in a fully online course to communities of practitioners in a professional field. For instance, in a professional skills course, students are encouraged to join a closed Facebook group for alumni of the academic program they’re enrolled in. This allows students to connect to past students and current working professionals.


The second strategy discusses CourseNetworking, a closed social network tool used within an LMS primarily for informal intra-class communication, and its “Global Class” feature. This feature allows an instructor to classify his or her CourseNetworking site into a particular discipline category, and it allows students to view and share posts across different CourseNetworking course instances that are tagged with the same category. This allows for inter-class communication that could conceivably be used for students to network with students with similar interests across multiple class sections and even multiple institutions. It also allows instructors to create custom “Global Class” tags, which could be for smaller groups of classes, such as multiple classes within a program cohort.


The final strategy is the creative use of custom LMS roles to allow non-students to interact with students within specific parts of an online course. One presenter taught a fully online course with a heavy service-learning component. In face-to-face versions of the class, clients or community partners would have visited a class session or two; in the asynchronous online class, however, there needed to be a way for those outside partners to work with students within the course structure. The instructor worked with LMS administrators to create custom roles for “clients” for class projects to interact with students in specific discussion board topics. The special role ensured that partners had access to only the parts of the course relevant to their involvement and nothing more. 


In this discovery session, presenters will briefly discuss the three strategies and how they were implemented, including a discussion of critical issues, such as privacy. We’ll offer use case ideas beyond the instances mentioned in the presentation, and we’ll ask participants to offer ideas about how each of these strategies could be implemented in other contexts. Finally, because one of the strategies highlighted is a specific tool (CourseNetworking), we will provide participants a card with a QR code and information on how to log in to a sample “OLC Innovate 2020” instance of the CourseNetworking site we will create for demonstration purposes, and we’ll remain active in this instance for a few weeks so participants can try out the tool.



Hampton, K. N., Shin, I., & Lu, W. (2016). Social media and political discussion: when online presence silences offline conversation. Information, Communication, & Society, 20(7), 1090-1107. doi:10.1080/1369118X.2016.1218526.

Kipp, K. (2018). Exploring the future of the learning management system. International Journal on Innovations in Online Education, 2(2). doi:10.1615/IntJInnovOnlineEdu.2018028353.