An effective practice that has worked well at Florida Atlantic University is the use of faculty-led student communities of learners. During the current global pandemic, this virtual community provides a place for learners to share ideas, interact, and build a sense of belonging. We address concerns that typically surround sustaining virtual communities with solutions that include providing virtual community facilitators compensation for their time, developing research-based facilitator training, and establishing a collaborative effort between faculty and instructional designers to support the creation and sustenance of the community. This process provides a holistic approach for engaging student learners in a community which we called a virtual community of learners (vCoL).
The virtual community of learners (vCoL) combines community, academic work, and professional expertise to build a rich student experience. We started this with our Online Bachelors Degree program in Criminal Justice in which our most popular feature is live events with faculty talking about their area of expertise and community members who are working professionals in the field surrounding Criminal Justice. Our framework ensures that students are using their course-related knowledge and interacting with practitioners, faculty, staff, alumni, and fellow students. We took a five (5) phase approach to first establish an interdepartmental relationship, then provide facilitation training and support, then to create the community within the LMS, and launch the community with live events and career connections, and finally maintain engagement.