Big and little TEL questions

Activity 0.1 for the ALT #ocTEL asks me to reflect on my experience and ambitions for developing my teaching – specifically by identifying the most important question, or cluster of questions, about TEL for me.  My initial reaction to this is activity is – good one – an activity that gives participants the opportunity to reflect on why they are doing the course, what they expect to get out of it, while at the same time building a sense of community among the participants.  This leads me to my first question, and probably the one most asked of me:

How do we build community in a ‘fully’ online course?

Of particular interest to me is how this might be done in a course with small numbers, and limited capacity for synchronicity. In courses that I have participated in as a student, a lecturer/instructor, or have provided support for as an Educational Developer, I have not yet experienced a good sense of community that is sustained within a fully online offering. Whilst I understand some general principles around designing for social aspects of learning, and can see how they might work when there are large numbers of participants so the small proportion that actively engage from the start build dialogue and generate wider participation, leading to cooperative learning and more, I struggle to get a sense of good and or solid possibilities for this in smaller cohorts, particularly with competing demands and  limitations on synchronous learning opportunities or activities.

I am currently completing an MTeach via distance (ie online) with classmates who are either studying online as well, or on campus, have participated to varying levels of completion and activity in numerous MOOCs, miniMOOCs and other online and open courses, lecture into a course taught predominantly on campus, with some online features, and work as an Educational Developer, provided advice, support and learning materials and activities for teaching staff (lecturers and tutors) on TELT.