I find that students do not always use the course walls to talk to each other. I want to help them be more social, but don't necessarily want to tie this to class participation grades. I want them to create a sense of connection with each other, foster peer support, and decrease some of their dependence on me as the instructor. What are some creative ways that others have succeeded at making the course walls a robust and vibrant social and learning space?
One idea that I have employed with adult learners, is to gently redirect them when the opportunity arises. For example, if a student asks me a question that I know is relevant to other students, and also doesn't require my decision making skills, then I will ask them to post that on the wall, and to address it to their colleagues. Then, to keep things moving, I might also encourage one of their peers to respond.I might pick another classmate that I know (or I might guess) has a certain POV on the question posted. To everyone else, this "crafted discussion" is inspiration, and shows a certain level of activity. Yes, it is contrived, but it can motivate others to enter into authentic discussion.
Also, a rating system that encourages good answerers to build reputation might help. ;-)