Sense of co-accomplishment in collaborative work as threshold in establishing a sense of community in an online course
This study explored students’ sense of community in an online collaborative learning environment, focusing on the factors influencing students’ sense of community, the relationships among the factors, and the influences of a sense of community. The setting of this study was a graduate-level online course on Computer Supported Collaborative Learning in which all course activities were conducted collaboratively through online communications. Data were collected from multiple sources including participants’ electronic messages posted in public areas of the computer conferencing system, transcripts of online chats, interviews with the participants, participants’ written reflections on their learning process, and an instrument measuring students’ sense of community. Data were analyzed using the coding procedures for developing grounded theory proposed by Strauss and Corbin (1998). Results of the data analysis indicated that students established their sense of community by experiencing a sense of coaccomplishment through collaboration. Results also indicated that the factors influencing students’ sense of community related to three dimensions: group interaction, course context, and individual differences. Students’ sense of community was influenced primarily by the outcomes of interactions with group members, such as group members’ behaviors showing consideration for others, responding to their contributions, and contributing to the group collaboration. Factors related to the course context, such as the collaborative nature of the course, the technology used for the course, and the instructor’s role, influenced students’ sense of community by either facilitating or interfering with the group interactions. In addition, some factors resulting from individual differences in backgrounds and characteristics, such as personalities and attitudes toward collaborative learning, were critical for students to develop a sense of community. Once a sense of community was established, students developed a sense of camaraderie with their group members, felt more comfortable in working together, developed a greater sense of responsibility, and developed trust in their group members. The consequences of a sense of community, in turn, influenced the factors that promoted a sense of community when the students engaged in the next collaborative task.