In a regular university schoolroom, social connections are shaped through face-to-face interactions. Through casual chats before and after elegance, group project conferences, and different exchanges, college students are able to construct a community with their classmates and friends that regularly enhance their educational experience.
But how do distance novices join?
In a recent examine, a crew of researchers from Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology observed that growing computer-supported collaborative getting to know (CSCL) environments may want to assist college students to identify commonplace traits and life stories they proportion with friends, that may build community and boom the chance that scholars stay within the software.
“The online world is lacking social opportunities,” stated Na Sun, doctoral scholar inside the College of IST and lead researcher on the challenge. “Unlike face-to-face contact, it’s hard to reach out to others while you can’t see them. That sort of presence and sense of network may be very important.”
To behavior their studies, the group recruited extra than 400 Penn State World Campus students to enroll in a web community they created the usage of Slack Workspace. Then, they developed a chatbot to spark off discussion subjects and facilitate connections amongst users.
The chatbot asked users to publicly proportion their responses to questions including “Where are you from?” and “What is an amusing truth you want your peers to know approximately you?”
The researchers additionally performed pre- and post-examine surveys with contributors, in addition to with a manage institution of online learners who did now not get entry to the CSCL environment of Slack. They located that scholars felt a considerably stronger degree of a network by the use of the online platform when in comparison to students who did not use the CSCL.
“Belongingness and properly-being are very vital for people to live a terrific lifestyle,” stated Sun. “Grades are just one part of the mastering system. It’s also about the revel in and the way students feel approximately it.”
After interviewing individuals approximately peer connections they’d made online in small corporations, in training and with Penn State in fashionable, the researchers located standard styles of connections. First, they discovered that early, light-weight connections are shaped thru shared social identity, which includes finding different college students within the same profession, region or family status.
They additionally determined that a few peer connections are shaped and nurtured through steps that learners take to vet and invite collaborators, such as group contributors whose agenda and paintings ethic aligns with theirs—consisting of studying their peers’ introductory posts to find out proof of some preliminary shared affinity.
“If you do not have something that connects you with each other, it makes it difficult to bond as a group eventually; you’re basically operating with strangers,” stated one participant.
Others determined it motivating to speak to folks who have been in similar lifestyles degrees as themselves, balancing different responsibilities outside the schoolroom.
“What stood out is that numerous humans have jobs, have youngsters, have to easy and prepare dinner and the whole lot,” said another participant. “It’s like they have to fear about a lot greater, and then they’re in this elegance with me. If they could do it, I can do it.”
The researchers suggest that CSCL structures must build and hold possibilities for peer connections of varying types and strengths, from interactions with college students in their instructions to facilitating shared-identification networks, to networking with fellow alumni for profession recommendation.
Sun stated that possibilities like these could help enhance retention costs of students for universities providing online programs.
“When rookies feel [connections as a result of] this social integration, it’s far more likely that they may need to stay [in the program],” she stated. “It’s very crucial for us to build this social integration, not handiest on the trainer side but additionally at the generation facet. The whole environment needs to paintings together for this belongingness for on-line freshmen to sense like they’re part of the community and that humans are helping them.”
Xinying Wang, postdoctoral pupil, and Mary Beth Rosson, professor of IST, collaborated with Sun at the mission, which changed into funded by Penn State’s Center for Online Innovation and the College of Information Sciences and Technology. Their work earned an honorable point out on the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.