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Virtual Community Essay

This article discusses how communication, or lack thereof, affects student outcomes in the online learning environment. The author is trying to communicate the importance of communication, teamwork, and quality input in online learning. Beaudoin proposed that online students can learn and master content even if they appear “invisible” in the online community (Beaudoin, 2002). The idea is that a less skilled student would “lurk” or watch other students more experienced and skilled and learn from them. Nagel on the other hand proposed that most “successful” students actively participated in the online environment (Nagel, 2009).

These non-participants were coined as “lurkers” or read only participants. The studies however determined that there are many ways to be a non-participant. Read only participants read the material and discussions/posts but remain silent in their studies. These read only participants harvest more information than the other non-participants. There are also non-participants who participate but never offer anything of value. These students post and respond but usually offer very little of value to the online community. The poorly visible students are described as students with connectivity and technology issues that communicate using other means (cellular phones) directly with the instructor and keep current on work but seem non-participatory to others. Lastly, there are the non-participants we most often think of. The absent student who just doesn’t seem to be in the class. They skip assignments, put work off on others in groups, don’t participate in discussions, and usually do not review a majority of the reading (Nagel, 2009).

Though some of these students may be benefiting, even if just slightly from the virtual community, to participate actively is the proven way to achieve success. The study showed that students who posted quality discussions, logged in, had an elevated amount of discourse with peers and the instructor, and completed posted assignments were the most successful in their education. Students that were considered well above average were logging in almost triple the amount of times as the other students and posting well written discussion with several peers per week. They also had hits on a majority of the required and suggested reading for each course. On the other hand, students who were rarely logging in, having inconsistent hits on the reading material, and being inactive in discussions involving peers typically dropped the class before completion.

Although read only participants may receive some benefit from the online community they are not reaping the full benefit, which the online communities have to offer, with non-participation. Allowing for a few exceptions, most successful students are active in their discussions, submit quality posts and assignments, and actively participate in groups.

Beaudoin, M. F. (2002). Learning or Lurking? Tracking the “Invisible” Online Student. The Internet and Higher Education, 147-155. doi:10.1016/S1096-7516(02)00086-6

Nagel, L., Blignaut, A. S., & Cronjé, J. C. (2009). Read-only participants: a case for student communication in online classes. Interactive Learning Environments, 17(1), 37-51. doi:10.1080/10494820701501028

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