Building Community Online: Moving toward Humanization Through Relationship-Focused Technology Use


  • Staci Ann Gilpin University of Wisconsin-Superior
  • Stephanie Rollag Yoon University of Minnesota--Twin Cities
  • Jana LoBello Miller University of Minnesota--Twin Cities



online learning, online discussions, synchronous, teacher candidates, equity


This qualitative study aims to improve accessibility and equity in digital spaces by identifying the prevalent mismatch between online course design, student culture, and its connection to instructional design for teacher preparation programs. Utilizing feminist theory, we explore the intersection between community, identity, and learning within relational-focused small group online discussions for students enrolled in two online teacher preparation courses. Data for this study includes observations of teacher candidates, artifacts of their meetings, and reflective responses. The results indicate that relational-focused small group online discussions provide opportunities to expand accessibility and equity through community and deep learning while impacting future teachers' identities.


Author Biography

Staci Ann Gilpin, University of Wisconsin-Superior

Pronouns (she/her/hers)
Twitter - @StaciAGilpin

I was born in Sioux City, Iowa. Growing up on a family farm in rural northwest Iowa is one of my identities that continues to impact me professionally. This experience and the unique assets and needs of rural America are always on my mind. And continues to drive me to advocate for quality online instruction as an avenue to provide access to higher education for those who live in rural areas and to address related teacher shortages.

I recently completed a Ph.D. in Educational Foundations and Research at the University of North Dakota. As a doctoral student, I was also a Graduate Research Assistant for The Initiative for Rural Education, Equity, & Economic Development (I-REEED). It is a research collaborative comprised of faculty and doctoral students from the University of North Dakota. They partner with school districts in all six regions of North Dakota to study state and local level issues (e.g., teacher retention and recruitment, special education teacher shortages, dyslexia legislation, juvenile justice reform impacts, etc.) that are important to rural communities. 

Before becoming a full-time doctoral student, I taught and designed graduate and undergraduate teacher preparation courses using multiple delivery methods, including face-to-face, online, and blended. I did this work full-time at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, and The College of St. Scholastica, which made sense for me as these institutions serve a high percentage of rural and first-generation students. I teach graduate-level data analytics, research methodology, and special education licensure courses at the University of North Dakota and the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

Before moving into higher education, I worked in urban and rural K-12 schools for nearly 20 years as a teacher for students with emotional/behavioral disabilities, elementary classroom teacher, instructional coach, and special education administrator. During this time, I worked in some schools that served large populations of Indigenous students. As a result, I also see digital spaces as having the potential, in part, to provide equity and access for students from historically underrepresented groups.

My teaching experiences inform my research. It utilizes quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods designs with social justice and equity lens to study the scholarship of teaching and learning, online learning, open educational resources, and teacher preparation. I present at the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), OpenEd, and AERA National Conferences. I recently published a persistence model for online learners and two book chapters about designing and using equitable online discussions. Further, I was a 2020-2021 William and Flora Hewlett Foundation Open Educational Resources Fellow.


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Section II