LearnDAT Survey: Co-creating the Classroom Community

Collaboration tools can be internal to the class, external in the world, or a mix of both.

How do instructors create a sense of community?  How do students connect with each other?  Are online and face-to-face students different in how they approach and experience community?  The fall 2010 LearnDAT survey addressed these topics. 

We found that instructors were significantly less likely than were students to use Facebook; 25% did not, compared to 5% of students.  Instructors averaged 137 Facebook friends, compared to the student average of 449 friends.  Average time per day on Facebook was 32 minutes for instructors among Facebook users, and 101 minutes per day for students.

Instructors were asked about whether they assigned or encouraged students to use 9 collaboration tools to communicate with each other.   Very few instructors (4%) encouraged students to use TXT messaging to collaborate with classmates. However, nearly half of students (47%) did so.  Likewise, only 7% of instructors encouraged students to use Facebook to collaborate with classmates. However, 44% of students used Facebook, mostly on their own initiative, for course-related communication.

The instructors who completed our survey widely embraced collaborative learning values and practices, including encouraging students to help each other learn.  Most of these instructors did not believe their students cheated:  slightly more than one fourth (27%) agreed that some students in the class probably collaborated in ways they would consider cheating.  Far fewer students (only 9%) agreed that they sometimes collaborated in ways the instructor would not have liked.

Only 17% of instructors required their students to use external tools to collaborate.  These instructors might be considered pioneers, instructors who think and teach outside of the box.  Instructors who assign students to use external collaborative tools were also more extreme in their own use of Facebook, the other assignments they give in class, and the ways they structure class assignments.

Highly communicative fully online courses and face to face courses were different in important ways.  Face to face classes were significantly more likely to have assigned group work, including group projects during and outside of class and study groups.  The format of a course was highly related to how students in that class communicated with each other.  Fully online courses were significantly more likely than face to face courses to rely on a course discussion board or course chat and to use a course blog or wiki. 

Students in face to face classes were significantly more likely than students in fully online courses to collaborate with each other via email, TXT messaging, Facebook, and Google docs. This finding is counterintuitive.  Connecting via Facebook was very rare in an online course (only 7% of students did so).  TXTing among fully online classmates was not as infrequent as Facebook.  19% of online classmates TXTed. But fully half of face to face classmates TXTed with another person in their class.

Despite these stark differences in connecting via external social networking and large differences in sociability (shown on the table below), there was no significant difference in how satisfied students in face to face or fully online courses were with the amount of communication among classmates. In other words, both course formats apparently met student expectations.

For more details on these interesting findings, read the full report. You can also browse our full collection of past survey reports.