Enhancing students' sense of community in online environments



Thisposter sessionpresentsan information use model on how Wimba and Scond Life can facilitate collaborative platforms for users to build sense of communities in distance learning, and to extend their real life experience into virtual learning environments.


Web-based distance education, or online learning, provides a practical and sound approach to recruit and retain high quality library and information science students. Online programs are realistic solutions to most librarians and information professionals to further education while practice at local information agencies. However, some students might find difficulty in adjusting to online learning environments when they feel isolated from campuses hundreds of miles away. Thus, an essential ingredient to the success of distance learning programs is the ability to build the sense of community (The Sloan Consortium, 2008). In recent years educational institutes are using Wimba live classrooms to provide synchronous communications with audio and visual-based interactions between students and instructors (Reyes, 2008). Some educators began using 3D multiple user virtual environments such as Second Life in distance education (Luo & Kemp, 2008; Kemp, 2008). Communication tools such as Second Life and Wimba can serve as part of personal information infrastructure (Marchinini, 1995) to facilitate learning in real world environments, and student's sense of community may be enhanced since learning takes place in game-playing environments, where visual, auditory, and kinesthetic experiences are engaged.


While many online classes have been delivered successfully through text-based discussion boards in WebCT/Blackboard, little is known how audio/visual-based Wimba Live classroom and 3D Second Life (SL) virtual classrooms can enhance student collaboration and sense of community, particularly on how a student's experience at virtual environment can influence their real life performance. The goal of this project is to identify methods to enhance students' learning effectiveness in virtual environment through carbon neutral approaches, particularly by examining Wimba live classroom and Second Life virtual environment. Specifically, the project intended to conceptualize a information use model for online instruction using Wimba, Second Life, as well as traditional discussion boards.

This project will answer the follow research questions:

  • 1To what extend do students have different sense of community in Wimba Live classroom and Second Life virtual environment?
  • 2Can students' sense of community change over the time as a result of the information use of Wimba and Second Life communication tools?


Nine graduate students from a southwest state university participated in this experimental study in Spring 2009. Students were given 15-minute lecture and live demo on a SL classroom and then they filled out a pre-test questionnaire on their acceptance of such learning environment. The survey demonstrated high reliability in previous studies by the author. Students meet in a regular basis at the computer lab. They gathered regularly to complete learning tasks using Wimba and SL learning tool. Wimba tool is integrated into local Blackboard learning management system and Second Life was installed at classroom workstations. After three classes meetings students completed a post-test survey on their acceptance of the learning environment and reported their collaboration and sense of community. Class observation and qualitative feedback was collected and was used as data source to build a conceptual model describing how students' learning experience can be transferred from virtual environment to real life experience.


This pilot study presented an information use model on how Wimba and SL can facilitate collaborative platforms for users to build sense of communities in distance learning, and to extend their real life experience into virtual learning environments. Both Wimba and 3D SL learning environments provides effective new communication tools for LIS educators to design interactive course modules and better facilitate students' information needs. Second Life as an educational tool is still at its initial stage and more research studies are needed.