Humanising an asynchronous online course

Humanising an asynchronous online course - could Jelly Babies be the answer?

Team members: Maggie Carson, Louise Connelly


Encouraging interpersonal exchanges to support collaborative learning which require an element of self-disclosure can be problematic at the best of times but even harder in an online environment. It can take time for a group of distance learners to bond sufficiently to ensure meaningful relationships are formed which promote trust and give the students confidence to share their experiences. Often this time is not available.

Using an innovative approach to support students, which has been used successfully face-to-face but never before online, we want to explore how well students undertaking an asynchronous online MSc leadership module, felt supported by a ‘tool’ more commonly used as an icebreaker, and often referred to as the ‘Jelly Baby Tree’ (JBT). We have adapted this and used it as a means of encouraging social presence and fostering a sense of community online.

Preliminary analysis suggests the students have found the JBT to be a much valued aspect of the course by allowing and encouraging students to be reflective and to feel able to disclose personal information about themselves and their leadership style in a safe and supportive environment. Significantly, in a diverse cultural group the JBT appears to have been perceived as a neutral, safe and non-threatening means through which students could connect with each other without misunderstanding.

There has been a clear correlation between the students’ interactions with the JBT, the degree of social presence and their active participation with the course.