Graduate Theological Union

Building community in the virtual clasroom

Looking for more information about building an effective online classroom? Consider this book: Rena M. Palloff and Keith Pratt, Building Online Learning Communities: Effective Strategies for the Virtual Classroom (San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 2007)

Paloff and Pratt are both experienced online professionals; their work focuses on helping educators effectively teach in online settings. Their book offers a comprehensive and helpful guide to creating online courses that meet the particular needs of students who are not in a face-to-face classroom. Paloff and Pratt are strong and convincing proponents of the value of the virtual classroom as an effective learning environment. They argue that using different modalities can, in fact, potentially prove even more valuable to the student in some cases. Because students are drawn from a wider area, for example, there is the potential for greater diversity in input, perspectives, and so on. The book also provides very accessible, very practical ways to implement its ideas, drawing from real classroom experiences.

The book emphasizes the importance of collaborative learning and the increased possibilities that the online classroom offers for students to actively engage in learning. The virtual classroom allows students to draw on a wider range of materials than they have available to them while in a regular in-person class. Because students can log in and add material whenever something engages them, their learning can be more spontaneous and involved. Students are freer to pursue avenues of curiosity, without being disruptive to a planned flow of classroom activities (see page 106). The role of the teacher, then, becomes more of a facilitator of student learning, rather than an expert delivering knowledge. The instructor helps the students discover that which they need to learn and guides them along the process, helping them to uncover insights, resources, and frameworks (pages 110-111).