Creating Community

One of the best ways to create a community of learners is to start the course off with a warm and accepting tone. Because students cannot see your facial expressions or hear you laugh, it is your job to communicate warmth in writing, welcoming and inviting students to join you in the course.  Here is a sample welcoming announcement:

 I’m so pleased to have you join me for this new session of ______ as a completely online course.  I have everything set for you to get started. Over the course of the next 13 weeks, you will be …….  My goal is to  guide you  as you develop………   Although this first week may take longer to complete, each following week should require approximately ____ to ____ hours’ worth of reading and online discussions. But if you feel overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to speak up through email or phone.  Let’s get started.

Sending a voice email or using an audio announcement in the course site can be a way to bring your presence right into the students’ homes.  Several free programs exist for developing audio messages.  Audacity and Jing are both easy to use.  Tools are also available within your LMS. A best practice is to introduce the activities and assignments with a weekly voice message.

Creative Ice Breakers

One way to build community from the start is with creative icebreakers.  One icebreaker that the School of Nursing faculty have used with good success is to have students introduce themselves (on the discussion forum) through the eyes of their pet.

Introduce yourself through the eyes of your pet – – if you have one.  If you don’t, try imagining a goldfish bowl and describe yourself through fish eyes.  Or think of a pet you’d like to have…if you don’t get excited about pets, that’s okay too.  I’m sure there’s a certain mouse or monitor you know who could tell s a little something about you.  You might consider questions like:   Do you exercise your pet regularly?  Does your pet like to cuddle?  Do you like the cuddling?  If your pet sheds, does it bother you?  What’s the best thing you do for your pet?

Know Thy Netiquette

Every community needs standards of conduct or “laws” within which it operates — otherwise “chaos” ensues.  Rules of conduct and communication become even more important in an online environment where community members do not ever meet and sometimes never speak to one another.   Written words, even when well-intended, can be easily misconstrued because vocal inflection is missing.  And, things said in “jest” often fall flat.  Perceptions of impolite or unkind communication can develop in online courses, degrading the connectiveness and quality of social interaction needed for a good learning experience (Rieck & Crouch, 2007).

Some persons behave with less inhibition and less civility in online environments than they would in face-to-face interactions (Suler, 2004).  “Flaming” is what people do when they express a strongly held opinion without holding back any emotion. It’s perceived as an angry message as opposed to a passionate one.  All participants in an online learning community should avoid flaming, using offensive language, and being confrontational for the sake of confrontation.

“Netiquette” (derived from “network etiquette”) has been developed to guide communications in the online arena. Basic netiquette rules are summarized in:

You should remind students that the course is password protected and each student should be safe to post files and discussions without fear that they might see it elsewhere on the web.  Respect is the key.


Chiles, David.  (2012).   Selected YouTube videos from
Netiquette definition by David Chiles (1:26)
The golden rule of netiquette (1:48)
Online class netiquette rules (1:46)
The core rules of netiquette. (1:15)
The top ten core rules of netiquette (1:58)

Conrad, D. (2002). Inhibition, integrity and etiquette among online learners: the art of niceness. Distance Education, 23(2), 197-212.

Mayne, L. A., & Wu, Q. (2011). Creating and measuring social presence in online graduate nursing courses. Nursing Education Perspectives, 32(2), 110-114.

Mintu-Wimsatt, A., Kernek, C., & Lozada, H. R. (2010). Netiquette: make it part of your syllabus. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 6(1).  Retrieved May 28, 2012 from

Paloff, R., & Pratt, K. (2011, April 8). Interview with Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt on building online learning communities. [Podcast] Retrieved from

Rieck, S. & Crouch, L. (2007.)  Connectiveness and civility in online learning.  Nurse Education in Practice, 7(6), 425-432

Shea, V. (1994).  Netiquette.  San Francisco, CA: Albion Books.)  Online edition 1.1 (revised Dec. 7, 1997) available at:

Suler, J. (2004).  The online disinhibition effect. Cyberpsychology and Behavior, 7(3), 321-326.

The core rules of netiquette.  (10 core rules, excerpted from Virginia Shea’s book Netiquette.) Retrieved from

Tilley, D. S., Boswell, C., & Cannon, S. (2006). Developing and establishing online student learning communities. Computers, Informatics, Nursing, 24(3), 144-149; quiz 150-141.

Vrasidas, C., Zembylas, M., & Chamberlain, R. (2004). The design of online learning communities: critical issues. Educational Media International, 41(2), 135-143.