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In a typical college classroom, social connections are formed through face-to-face interactions. Through informal chats before and after class, group project meetings, and other exchanges, students are able to build community with their classmates and peers that often enrich their academic experience.
But how do distance learners connect?
Study - Team - Researchers - Penn - State
In a recent study, a team of researchers from Penn State's College of Information Sciences and Technology found that creating computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) environments could help students identify common characteristics and life experiences they share with peers, which can build community and increase the likelihood that students remain in the program.
"The online world is missing social opportunities," said Na Sun, doctoral student in the College of IST and lead researcher on the project. "Unlike face-to-face contact, it's hard to reach out to others when you can't see them. That kind of presence and sense of community is very important."
Research - Team - Penn - State - World
To conduct their research, the team recruited more than 400 Penn State World Campus students to join an online community they created using Slack Workspace. Then, they developed a chatbot to prompt discussion topics and facilitate connections among users.
The chatbot asked users to publicly share their responses to questions such as "Where are you from?" and "What is a fun fact you want your peers to know about you?"
Researchers - Surveys - Participants - Control - Group
The researchers also conducted pre- and post-study surveys with participants, as well as with a control group of online learners who did not access the CSCL environment of Slack. They found that students felt a significantly stronger level of community by using the online platform when compared to students who did not use the CSCL.
"Belongingness and well-being are very important for people to live a good life," said Sun. "Grades are just one part of the learning process. It's also about the experience and how students feel...
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