Apart together: Generating online relationships in transient learning communities

Presenters: Jennifer Yates and Lucy Macnaught


With a focus on the conference theme of cultivating relationships, we examine the design of student participation in online workshops. In particular, we focus on the development of one-off writing workshops for groups of up to twenty postgraduate research students who typically do not know each other.

In our rapid shift to online delivery during the COVID-19 Lockdown period, our immediate design challenge was to determine what types of online participation are possible. We also considered how participants could connect and collaborate with each other over a two-hour period, and how to develop a sequence of participation where students gradually become more involved. Our findings centre on five different types of participation.

In this session, we define and illustrate each type and show their sequencing across an entire workshop. These choices involved re-designing and adapting face to face workshops into short segments that alternate teaching points with practical activities. The pedagogic rationale for this design is to give students the opportunity to put new knowledge immediately into practice, and to be part of a shared and interactive learning experience. We show how this is achieved through gradually making student participation more demanding, such as starting with individual participation where students are anonymous (e.g., doing an online ‘poll’), and progressing to collaborative activity where students are identifiable (e.g. writing together in breakout rooms using a shared document.)

These findings are of relevance to lecturers seeking to cultivate connections between students in transient learning communities, and interested in designing collaborative activities in synchronous online teaching and learning.