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Community in an Online Anthropology Class: Friend or Faux?

Mary Nolan and Brenda Kellar

Proposed research abstract

“It is generally recognized in pedagogical and androgogical circles that “building community,” particularly a “community of inquiry” among online students is a necessity of successful online instruction (Arbaugh, 2008; Garrison et al., 2000; Swan and Shih, 2005). And recent research has shown that a robust social presence increases student retention rates (Boston et al., 2009). Students themselves are asking for community, but how do they envision that space and what are the benefits they expect to gain? The research proposed here will use survey and ethnographic data to answer four questions:

  1. How online students define community;
  2. What aspects of online community are perceived to be most important;
  3. What aspects of online community are perceived to be missing from their current OSU experience; and,
  4. Online venues where distance majors currently seek (and find?) a sense of community.

This research could help determine what universities and programs can do to increase a sense of community among their distance students, and thereby possibly increase retention rates for their distance students. This research proposal links directly to the goals for OSU’s Strategic Plan Phase III to provide a “transformative educational experience for all learners” and to “strengthen impact and reach throughout Oregon and beyond” and provides “leadership in research, scholarship and creativity” in that it combines recent Community of Inquiry research in distance education with the ethnographic perspective and could substantively add to the literature in anthropology of education. This project presents potential as a pilot for future research.

Return to 2016-17 research fellows and projects.