Accessible at: http://www.aln.org/publications/jaln/v5n2/v5n2_brown.asp
The purpose of the study “was to develop a theory about the process of theory formation through which community formed in adult computer-mediated asynchronous distance learning classes” (p. 18).
Here the author stresses the significance of the process of forming a virtual community of learners in distance education.
The author argues that few efforts have been made to discover how adult distance learners define community, whether they feel part of it or not, and, if so, how it is that the phenomenon takes place. Students may have the desire to continue contacting one another and the institutions may as well need to remain in electronic contact with students for alumni. Thus, the study is thought to provide practical applications for both students and institutions.
A number of research questions are raised. The main question is: “How was community formed in computer-mediated distance learning class?” The concept of community and three other related concepts are defined.. Community is defined as “support from people who share joys and trials” (, p. 20). The research design is presented, and is said to incorporate a qualitative paradigm—which is said to be concerned with the process of community-building in a distance education class, rather than outcome or products —as well as a grounded-theory approach that is said to have generated the concepts and the relationships among them.
First, a number of graduate level educational administration courses delivered from a Midwestern university by Lotus Notes through the Internet were selected. Then, some twenty one students, both ‘newbies’ and ‘veterans’, who have taken the distance education classes along with three faculty members who have facilitated such classes were also selected for the study. The data gathered was in the form of interviews, first by telephone and by mail.
--Data Analysis & Verification methods
Coding of the data was performed which resulted in a number of themes. The themes have been considered and relationships between them have been identified. A number of verification methods, e. g., long-term observations and peer review, were used.
Two themes emerged from the participants’ descriptions of community. First, that the members of a community had some shared elements, eg., interests, experiences, goals, etc. Second, that interaction that participants involve in is an integral part of community-building. The author came up with a paradigm for community building. This included the context in which the community formed, the conditions needed for community-formation, intervening conditions, and strategies for overcoming negative conditions and utilizing positive conditions. Importantly, a three-stage phenomenon of community-building was identified, as follows:
A. Making online acquaintances
B. Community conferment, or a membership-like process of integration into the community
C. Camaraderie—that was achieved after long-term association with others in personal communication
Additionally, a visual model of community-building was ‘generated (see p. 25).
The concept of absence of community formation for certain participants was introduced and accounted for and the differences between newbies and veterans was explained. The steps involved in community building (I.e., tools, comfort level, self-assessment and judgments, etc.) were also offered. The author then offered twelve theoretical propositions as a result of their study. These, for example, included:
-Community did not happen unless the participants wanted it to happen.
-Online community was present for some participants and absent for others.
-“modeling, encouragement, and participation by the instructor helped community form more readily for more students in computer-mediated classes.” (p. 31)
The results are then discussed and a number of implications are offered.