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NEWSLETTER: Vol. 5, No. 8, May 17, 2000

BOOK REVIEW: Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace:
Effective Strategies for the Online Classroom
by Rena M. Palloff and Keith Pratt
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999

Editor's note: This is the first in a new series of book reviews that will appear periodically in TTT. Readers who would like to review a recent publication in the field of educational technology should contact Jennifer Smith.

M. Kayt Sunwood, Director of the Faculty Development Center, UW-Superior
Jane Henderson, Computer-Based Instruction Designer, Learning Technology Services, UW-Stout
Readers who are unfamiliar with this book are encouraged to look at the Web companion developed by Jane Henderson, Mary Duda, and Dora Pember-Jones, which provides summaries of the book's major points.

M. Kayt Sunwood, UW-Superior:

In my opinion, Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace is a "must read" for those using or contemplating the use of the Internet and the Web for teaching and learning. Palloff and Pratt have crafted a valuable, hands-on primer of effective strategies, resource materials, and illustrative examples to facilitate course development and nurturing of learning communities online. I feel that this book's usefulness isn't limited to online and distance learning audiences, either. "Learning is an active process in which both the instructor and the learners must participate," (p. 6) Palloff and Pratt insist. This book lays out a practical approach and shares solid experience about building learning communities which encourage participation in the active process of learning. Outstanding information abounds on fostering a sense of community in the classroom and enhancing a "web of learning" that facilitates academic excellence in online as well as face-to-face courses.

I personally wouldn't take Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace as THE word on the subject of online learning. From my own experience as an online instructor and as a faculty developer supporting online learning, I found points to argue with as well as points to appreciate and applaud. The wealth of information and material which fills this book is well worth the few overgeneralizations or opinions presented as facts, I feel. Discussion of this book at the Learning Technology Development Council Winter Conference on Instructional Design was a wonderful opportunity for me to think more deeply about the framework for successful online learning that this book presents. Important issues to consider in developing a framework for successful online learning (outlined in the book) include access to technology, guidelines and procedures, participation, collaborative and transformative learning, and evaluation of the process (as well as course outcomes).

I am excited about using Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace to facilitate dialogue on effective teaching and learning communities. This book will help me to enhance teaching and learning here at UW-Superior by providing a wonderful resource and conversation starter about effective learning communities, especially online ones. I would love to continue a conversation about this book (and/or learning communities and facilitation of teaching and learning both face-to-face and online). Perhaps UTIC's faculty development listserve (contact about subscribing to this list) would be a place to carry on a conversation about building learning communities and facilitating teaching and learning.

Jane Henderson, UW-Stout:

As institutions of higher education delve into the world of online learning -- either Web-enhanced or distance-based education -- many administrators and faculty members focus primarily on the hardware and software used to deliver courses. Minimal time, at least in the beginning, is spent on the process of teaching in this medium or the learning that can/should take place in the course. The challenge, both in traditional face-to-face or distance education, is to provide opportunities for effective learning to take place and to move away from traditional teaching methods that include just lectures and examinations (memorization rather than internalization). The premise of this book is that learning communities provide for a more effective learning experience for online students and that instructors must be trained and supported as they utilize online courses/coursework to teach their students. Pratt and Palloff discuss many of the critical components that need to be addressed by faculty who are considering teaching on-line and provide examples for the reader to peruse. Added to the challenge is that even in traditional classrooms, learning communities or communities of practice are not always established, so experience in this realm is usually limited.

In addition, issues are shared about the electronic learning environment including ethics, rules, and administrative issues regarding courses. It is a handbook for faculty and administrators that will assist novices but also provide insight for experienced online instructors and ways to improve their practice.

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