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An Online Composition Course
Pre-Ops/Unit Cohesion

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Online Communities

The demonstration and recognition of social presence are two ways of developing an online environment in which students are encouraged to state ideas, elaborate on others' thinking, and criticize one another's reasoning. When students recognize that the other students in an online course are actual people with various backgrounds but often similar interests, social and intellectual connections may form. It is through this feeling of connectedness, of realizing that the other students in the class and also the instructor often have similar goals and outcomes for the course, that a sense of community can develop among the participants.

Researchers on sense of community, David McMillan and David Chavis (1986) defined this concept as the feelings of belonging, security, and trust that members may experience as part of a group. Developing their concepts about sense of community in online education communities from those of McMillan and Chavis, Rena M. Palloff and Keith Pratt (1999) explained that an online education community may be formed due to participants’ desires for connectedness. Connectedness implies a sense of camaraderie, trust, and confidence in others that is similar to the components in David McMillan and David Chavis' (1986) definition. An online community is a group of participants who are brought together in an online classroom environment to interact, exchange ideas, and collaborate in order to gain a knowledge and understanding of the subject matter, of the course, and of how the subject matter and course pertain to their lives (Shea, 2006).

Social learning theorist Etienne Wenger (n.d.) narrowed the definition of this concept of community when he explained the term community of practice (COP), which was developed by Wenger in conjunction with anthropologist Jean Lave when studying apprenticeships. Wenger suggested that in a COP, members usually share common concerns, goals, passions, and interests. He recognized three distinct characteristics that must be present in order for a community of practice to exist: the domain, the community, and the practice. Alluding to domain as a situation of life, Wenger suggested that a COP should have a distinguishing identity due to the commonalities of those individuals, in this case participants (students and the instructor), in this environment.

In the common domain, participants in a COP should interact and participate in activities and discussions that allow opportunities to help others and to share information (Wenger, n.d.). The author describes a COP as more than just a collection of participants with common interests. Rather, a COP consists of practitioners in the common domain. Members of a community of practice often hold an abundance of resources such as life stories, knowledge tools, and previous practical experiences. This form of practice is developed through participants sharing, interacting, and learning from each other. Many times participants are not even aware that a community of practice has been developed (Wenger, n.d.). Participants may only recognize that they are one of several individuals present in a comfortable and informative environment.

An Online Composition Course: Pre-Ops/Unit Cohesion – 7