Discussions are ideal forums for building both community cohesion and affective association. These qualities promote social presence and by extension increase the likelihood of increased engagement. That feeling of being isolated that so many students feel especially in online only spaces can be reduced by using these strategies.
These strategies are based on Whiteside and Dikkers Social Presence Model (2012). Social presence is believing that the person on the other side of a screen or keyboard is a real person. In their paper "Maximizing Multicultural Online Learning Experiences with the Social Presence Model, Course Examples, and Specific Strategies" (2012), they provide five areas that improve online learning experiences - affective association, instructor investment, community cohesion, knowledge and experience, and interaction intensity. In the last post, we talked about affective association. In this post, we talk about community cohesion. Each post will explore practical applications of the portion of the model that you can use to increase engagement in your online classroom.
Affective association is emotional connection. Community cohesion benefits from affective association because community cohesion is when participants see the group as a community. This is done with:
- Additional resources
- Greetings or salutations
- Group references (us, we, our)
- Social sharing
- Vocatives - referring to participants by name
Building community cohesion through discussion
Going back to the random channel strategy from the affective association post, the random channel can be a place to share funny videos and useful websites or links to other things. These artifacts, links, and content are examples of additional resources. These can be related to a recent topic or they could be social sharing. Social sharing is non-academic and purely social. It might be starting a conversation about plans for the weekend or sharing a music video. Social sharing can blend with affective association building quite easily (e.g. a GIF for someone’s birthday or to celebrate the weekend).
Other aspects of community cohesion are common social norms. For example, using greetings and salutations at the start of a post or when engaging with someone for the first time in a session. Salutations pair nicely with vocatives, referring to participants by name. Finally, references to the group as a unified presence by referring to the group as "us", "we", or "our" is another way to build and indication of community cohesion. Keep in mind this isn't something that can be forced on a group, however it can be modeled by the instructor.
Whiteside, A. L., & Dikkers, A. G. (2012). Maximizing multicultural online learning experiences with the social presence model, course examples, and specific strategies. Computer-Mediated Communication across Cultures, 395–413. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-60960-833-0.ch025
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