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Creating Community Online: Group Project Review

Graphic: Social Media, Internet, Communication, Community

Well this is ironic. No one else from my group is anywhere to be seen, and the task is this:

In this activity you are going to be working in groups to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities around the size and scale of learning communities, particularly online. In your group discussion area, share a positive and/or a negative example of your experience of being part of an online community (informal or formal). What were the key things that made or make the experience positive or negative? Provide a short overview of your personal experience in your group discussion area. Once you have all posted your entries then, as a group create a list of your:

  • three essentials considerations for positive community building
  • three things to avoid or mitigate when trying to build and sustain a community

I found this useful infographic defining online communities:

Online community infographic

Online community definition, by Hans Leijström, via Flickr. Licence: CC-BY-2.0

Obviously from this, activities should be encouraging contributions of useful content from valuable members.

Logically, that means three of the considerations for positive community building should be:

  1. Activities that encourage contributions
  2. Inclusion of members that can be motivated to contribute
  3. Existence of something useful / interesting that members are able to contribute

Referring back to the Community of Inquiry, according to ‘Learning to Learn Online: Define your learning community‘, maintaining a cognitive presence in the community requires a continual process of critical thinking. Meanwhile, developing a social presence in the learning community involves creating the open and mutual relationships that allow for learning and collaboration to occur.

Community of inquiry

Community of Inquiry: Venn diagram from the course notes License: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

I’d say Discourse was what was missing from my group project. According to the course notes,

Discourse refers to the capacity of the social presence to engage the cognitive presence through communication. The communication involved in discussing, writing, and otherwise engaging with the cognitive domains under investigation is predicated in no small part on the social presence already established in these spaces. How we write in this disciplinary space, how we draw on research and construct arguments, how we adopt the communicative practices at work in the field and in the profession, all of this is accelerated by a strong social presence.

So how did this not happen in my group?
I think it was probably because the people in the group had not got to know each other individually at all (social presence), and were also not keeping up their original levels of engagement in the course (cognitive presence). This may have been partly due to the approaching disruption of the coronavirus pandemic. However, I think also because the group members did not know each other, they were less motivated by social presence, and less likely to be aware of what each member could usefully contribute.

It might have worked better if the group project had begun with smaller, less serious tasks to serve as introductions, and get group members to engage as a learning community.

Even the course notes admit,

Remember that although group working is an effective way to build a community, a lot of students really don’t like it.

So I think my three things to avoid would be:

  1. Discouraging cognitive presence by setting a first task that may be either too intimidating for people who are working remotely and don’t know each other (getting to grips with new technology), or not likely to engage the interest of most of them (office communication software).
  2. Launching a group with a substantial task, rather than a get-to-know-you exercise to encourage social presence.
  3. Disengagement from course organisers / moderators: some outside encouragement from course leaders might have been enough to get the group working.

As the course notes explain, and the group project (or lack of it in my group) demonstrated,

Without the social presence, the teacher and cognitive presences suffer and without the teacher and cognitive presences, the social becomes immediately superfluous. When done properly, beyond being a frivolous bit of activity, community building is an engine for a positive educational experience.



  • Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 1999. Critical Inquiry in a Text-Based Environment: Computer Conferencing in Higher Education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), pp.87–105.
  • Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2010. The first decade of the community of inquiry framework: A retrospective. The Internet and Higher Education, 13(1-2), pp.5–9.
  • Kovanović et al., 2018. Exploring communities of inquiry in Massive Open Online Courses. Computers & Education, 119, pp.44–58.
    Nerantzi, C. & Gossman, P., 2015. Towards Collaboration as Learning: Evaluation of an Open CPD Opportunity for HE Teachers. Research in Learning Technology, 23(1), p.14.
  • Nolan-Grant, C. (2019). The Community of Inquiry framework as learning design model: a case study in postgraduate online education. Research in Learning Technology, 27.
  • Swan, K. (2019). Social Construction of Knowledge and the Community of Inquiry Framework. In Open and Distance Education Theory Revisited (pp. 57-65). Springer, Singapore.

(Image: Social Media, Internet, Communication, Community by Pete Linforth / TheDigitalArtist from Pixabay . Licence: Pixabay License)

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