FAU Broward Campuses News

Center for Online and Continuing Education and School of Criminology and Criminal Justice Grow Virtual Community of Learners From 150 to 750 Students

Monday, Mar 01, 2021
Center for Online and Continuing Education and School of Criminology and Criminal Justice Grow Virtual Community of Learners From 150 to 750 Studentss

The Center for Online and Continuing Education (COCE) in collaboration with the FAU School of Criminology and Criminal Justice (CCJ) developed and implemented a virtual community of learners (vCoL) designed to build and strengthen relationships between online students and instructors. Communities are faculty-led with training, technical, and financial support provided by COCE. This partnership ensures that faculty have the resources they need to build and sustain a virtual environment that enriches the student learning experience, promotes inclusivity, builds institutional identity, and values diverse worldviews.

A vCoL is a living entity that grows and changes based on the participation of stakeholders. For this reason, the FAU vCoL initiative begins with training and support for faculty facilitators who can nourish the community by providing rich content and engaging interactions. Hosting live presentations with a diverse group of experts is a key aspect of maintaining and sustaining vibrant student engagement.

The FAU vCoL model is designed to provide a virtual space for learners to share ideas, interact with each other, communicate with their faculty, and build a sense of trust and belonging. A unique aspect of this practice is the emphasis given to training and supporting faculty facilitators, noting that building and sustaining a purposeful, relevant community of learners requires coordination between subject matter experts, eLearning support staff, administrators, and community stakeholders.

Participation in the vCoL may be synchronous or asynchronous, and allows online students to share lived experiences with peers, develop fluency in technology, and participate in dialogue around real-world issues related to their area of study. For example, the vCoL for FAU’s online bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice combines community connections, academic work, and professional expertise to build a rich student experience. At a time when the criminal justice system is receiving unprecedented press and social media coverage, the CCJ vCoL offers students a platform to build critical thinking and problem-solving skills as they participate in dialogue related to current issues in the news.

Dr. Naelys Luna, dean of the FAU College of Social Work and Criminal Justice supports this innovative practice for its timeliness and relevance stating, "this engagement is of increasing importance during times of heightened concern and awareness of social justice issues. Now more than ever, there is a need for courageous and thoughtful insights regarding the criminal justice system. I am, therefore, elated that the vCoL has recently hosted forums with guest experts to address difficult topics such as human trafficking, racial injustice, jury selection and unconscious bias throughout the system. These events were well-attended and student feedback has been overwhelmingly positive."

The FAU CCJ vCoL was established in September 2018 with an initial participation of 150 students, enrollment has grown to over 750 students in February 2021. The vCoL framework ensures that students are able to link their course-related knowledge to real-world challenges. Furthermore, this university-sponsored, faculty-led vCoL provides students with networking and career exploration opportunities. Dr. Julie Golden Botti, Executive Director of the Center for Online and Continuing Education looks forward to facilitating the growth of vCoLs at FAU noting, "these communities are so important to cultivating an ethos of respectful engagement in a supportive learning environment for our FAU Online students."

For more information e-mail COCE at idesign@fau.edu.