Stronger Together: How Virtual Learning Communities Encourage Peer Support, Improve Outcomes, and Save Time in Online Classes

Concurrent Session 3
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Online students require unique strategies for engagement and support. Students want on-demand help, but faculty can’t be available 24/7. This session will discuss how virtual learning communities offer a unique opportunity to build peer-to-peer connections, deliver just-in-time support, and help faculty scale their time when teaching online.


Dr. Porter is a Lecturer in the Chemistry Department at Indiana University Bloomington. She teaches primarily general chemistry and inorganic chemistry courses and is a previous winner of the NTT Trustees Teaching Award. Her interest lies in improving student learning outcomes in large enrollment chemistry courses.

Extended Abstract

As a flagship research institution, Indiana University (IU) has roughly 40 thousand undergraduates, and the STEM program has especially large class sizes. Dr. Meghan Porter, lecturer at IU’s Department of Chemistry, had specific challenges when it came to teaching online courses. She found herself answering the same questions multiple times, sometimes after traditional office hours. With such large classes, it was difficult to find a way to bring students together and help them build a community that would allow them to help one another. 

Dr. Porter envisioned a way for students to communicate with each other in an open and approachable environment. She wanted to bring technology into the classroom in a way that felt seamless and connected and could help her and her students. In response, IU integrated a virtual community platform, which creates a flexible, on-demand space where students connect with classmates and instructors to ask questions, share ideas, and support each other. 

After the first semester, Dr. Porter found that the virtual learning community offered significant advantages for her and her students. This virtual space simplified communication, improved access to resources, and allowed students to work together to answer common questions about the curriculum and course logistics. In addition, by centralizing Q&A in a shared space, Dr. Porter found she had fewer emails to juggle, and having the ability to quickly respond to students’ questions and concerns has saved her much-needed time. 

This presentation will focus on best practices for incorporating learning communities into the online classroom and the positive outcomes faculty and institutions can expect on belonging, engagement, and student success. Attendees will be asked to reflect on their own student support approaches, and to discuss how community-based and other virtual support systems are working for their online students.