Creating Communities

There is an increasing body of research that indicates the importance of student engagement in the learning process. Engagement is not only a commitment to the completion of tasks but also a psychological investment in learning (Newmann, Wehlage, & Lamborn, 1992). It is important to design your course to include a supportive community. Whether you are developing a face-2-face or online course, considering student engagement and specifically developing a sense of community is essential to student success. Fredrick, Blumenfeld, and Paris (2004) found that students who were engaged performed considerably higher academically than their unengaged peers.

Creating a supportive learning community involves dialogue; faculty to student, student to student, and student to resources. The faculty to student dialogue is straightforward in a face-2-face class but can also be included in the online setting through a video introduction and video or audio clips created for sessions or lectures. Instructors can also offer coaching and periodic reminder announcements.

Peer to peer engagement is a little more difficult to develop online. One strategy is to begin the semester with a personal introduction so the students can get to know one another. You should also include a personal introduction that contains more than your years in education and teaching philosophy. Don’t be afraid to mention your dog’s name or confide that you secretly like to relax in your hammock on Sunday. Include a photo that personalizes you.

Create an open forum for students to post questions or request help, this will be open for responses from you but you can encourage students to support one another through this forum as well. You could also set up a specific problem-solving forum and assign students to monitor and answer questions that are posted. Another option is to create small groups where students can assume responsibility for supporting each other on class assignments or with general motivation throughout the entirety of the course. I can tell you from experience, a community forum can be the only thing that keeps students from withdrawing from the class or dropping out of school completely. The support of a peer network is very powerful.

Some students may not be comfortable with a high-level of participation and may not choose to take advantage of the learning communities, but others may require that support structure to be successful. Vygotsky (1978) stressed the role of social interaction and believed that community plays a central role in the process of learning.


Fredericks, J., Blumenfeld, P., & Paris, A. (2004). School engagement: Potential of the concepts, state of the evidence. Review of Educational Research, 74, 59-109.

Newmann, F. M., Wehlage, G. G., & Lamborn, S. D. (1992). The significance and sources of student engagement. In F. M. Newmann (Ed.), Student engagement and achievement in American secondary schools (pp. 11-39). New York, NY: Teacher’s College Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

What is the Purpose of an LMS?

The Learning Management System (LMS) provides a central repository for all course materials with one login, which simplifies the learning process in the online environment. An LMS can be used for blended and face-2-face courses as well. Videos, blogs, wikis, journals, and portfolios can be added to courses within the LMS expanding the students’ resources and offering collaborative learning possibilities. The LMS includes efficient tracking and recording tools for monitoring progress to ensure that students are meeting their performance milestones. If a learner is not able to successfully complete a lesson, you can offer supplemental resources.

Although students are tech savvy, they are not always tech knowledgeable. They do not always make the best decisions about privacy and we should not contribute to this delinquency by requiring students to visit or register for sites that are not vetted by the technology services experts on campus. The LMS organizes e-learning content in one secure location.

Some opponents of the LMS believe the focus of the system is the storage and delivery of content rather than having a learner-centered focus. This is actually more myth than truth; the LMS can be flexible enough with the mode of instruction, interaction, and assessment strategies to accommodate a variety of teaching strategies with the added benefit of one central login and privacy protection. Think about adapting the system to fit the instruction as opposed to modifying the instruction to fit the affordances of the tool. Our number one priority should be our students, and requiring them to learn a new tool and sort through new navigation for every class is not the most efficient use of their cognitive energy.
VCU is currently using the Blackboard Learn LMS.


A rubric is a great way to articulate your expectations for a project or assignment and it can help ensure consistency. A rubric clarifies for students the qualities their work should have. You can list the criteria and describe the levels of quality as you define them. The three important features to a rubric are the evaluation criteria (the elements that will be considered when grading the item), the definitions of quality (a detailed explanation of the skills or proficiencies a student must demonstrate in order to attain a level of achievement), and the scoring strategy (the scale you use related to the quality to judge the project or assignment).

Rubrics have the potential to promote learning and achievement in a student-centered approach, helping students understand the targets and the standards of quality for a particular assignment (Reddy & Andrade, 2010). You can develop your rubric to align with the course learning objectives so students can see how the assignment fits into the course goals. Blackboard offers the ability to create multiple rubrics and assign them to a variety of assignments. I usually start creating my rubric by looking at the highest and lowest points then I fill in the middle section. Break your assignment down into areas of achievement; if it is a paper, you may be looking at grammar, paper format, the topic sentence, supporting evidence, references etc. Each of these items would then be ranked based on how you grade each element and it would also include a description for what you consider to be full credit, partial credit, and no credit. You can divide the quality into as many columns as you need to define the criteria by which learning will be assessed. Rubrics provide transparency into your grading methodology.

For more information on rubrics, how to create rubrics or how to include them in your course, contact Learning Systems at or check our Learning Systems Academy video on Creating a Rubric.


Reddy, Y.M., & Andrade, H. (2010). A review of rubric use in higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(4), 435-448.