Establishing a Learning Community with an Online Orientation


  • Anne-Marie Balzano George Mason University
  • Ying-Ying Kuo George Mason University



learning community, technology-enhanced tools, graduate student mentoring


Students new to distance education need to be prepared for learning in a fully online environment. While many undergraduate and graduate programs offer face-to-face orientation sessions to welcome new students and introduce them to general requirements, the sessions are often short, optional, and focus mainly on policies and procedures. Students entering a fully online degree program have a unique set of questions and concerns, including hardware/software requirements, building relationships with their professors, and creating a sense of community among their peers. àIn order to address the needs of their distance-learning students, the Education Leadership program designed a five-day interactive orientation on Blackboard for new online cohorts. This orientation module not only cultivates creative and reflective learners, but also utilizes technology-enhanced tools and strategies to establish a cohesive learning community. The orientation includes daily components such as community building activities and opportunities to practice using Blackboard features, as well as a summative, guided reflection. The EDLE online orientation was offered in 2015/2016 for two cohorts totaling 44 students. An overwhelming majority reported feeling more prepared to begin the program, comfortable with using the required technology, and engaged with their colleagues and professors. More importantly, evidence shows that students in 2015/2016 who participated in the orientation performed better in group activities and demonstrated high levels of engagement in their courses, compared to students in 2014 who did not have access to the orientation. Faculty attending this session will learn how to design an effective and innovative orientation module for an entire program or how to use the techniques illustrated in a single course setting.

Author Biographies

Anne-Marie Balzano, George Mason University

College of Education and Human Development, Education Leadership program, Assistant Professor and Academic Coordinator

Ying-Ying Kuo, George Mason University

Information Technology Services





2:45pm-3:25pm Mini-Workshops, Panels, & Roundtables