Bridging the Group Learning Gap at a Commuter Campus: A Call to Action

The following post is an excellent submission to our general call for posts from undergraduate students. Pake Newell, a psychology student at Trent University’s Oshawa campus, asks faculty to consider using social media as a means to foster collaboration. We sincerely thank Pake and we hope you enjoy this submission.

On behalf of the digitalcommunitas team,

Dr. Sara Humphreys

Commuter campuses, like the one at Trent Oshawa, provide a unique learning experience compared to traditional residential campuses. They offer a number of advantages, the most obvious being savings for students living at home. They also offer much greater flexibility in a person’s educational path and attract a larger proportion of continuing education students who already have homes, families, or jobs of their own. This greater diversity of student backgrounds provides an opportunity for an enriched learning environment as students bring their personal experiences to enrich classroom content.

However, the unique student dynamic of commuter campuses makes the opportunity of engaging diverse student backgrounds hard to realize as these experiences must be shared with other students. Both the lack of student residences and students’ obligations outside of school present barriers to collaborative group learning. In addition, students’ busy, competing schedules can make planning a group meeting with a critical mass of contributors next to impossible.

While the diverse student backgrounds at commuter campuses provide an opportunity for a rich learning environment, the demographics of students on such campuses make the necessary social learning difficult to accomplish. Online social tools can help to fill this gap and extend the learning environment out of the classroom and facilitate a more social and collaborative learning environment.

Large scale learning managements systems, like Blackboard, go some distance in providing these tools. All too often, though, these systems’ cumbersome social tools are an afterthought to the huge feature set of modern learning management systems. In many cases these systems’ social tools are limited to basic chat and forum boards. These tools are simply too outdated to offer a modern, interactive, multimedia social experience we’ve become accustomed to with Facebook, Twitter, Prezi, and whole cohort of other social and collaborative tools.

It seems clear that the social tools of learning management software have not kept pace with those outside of the education sector. We could wait for educational social tools to advance, but it is possible for everyone to use other social tools within the class. As people use these other tools in new and evermore creative ways, a rich and collaborative learning environment emerges. The solution is akin to what makes social networks so inviting: everyone can play a role. In fact, the more people who take part, the more fun and productive the interaction! These tools are not only a benefit for commuter campuses, but also for any educational environment.

So where can we start? Here’s just a few ideas:

* Teachers can open Twitter accounts to answer student questions and post links.

* Students can create Facebook groups for classes to share relevant content and seek help from one another.

* Students and teachers alike can curate Learnist boards with relevant online material.

These are the tip of the creative iceberg! Let’s get imaginative with learning in the social media age!


  1. Get Your Head Out of Your Asana, We’re Still Rockin’ it Old Skool. | Digital Communitas - December 3, 2014

    […] need to show up to class to get them), they seem to do little else. Some feel, as Student Voice Pake Newell, that these tools are bloated with obsolete features.   Other functions that these management […]

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