Welcome to the student learning communities seminar. As indicated in the description, this is a timely discussion for some of us at Simon Fraser University, given that we've just participated a couple of Innovative Educators webinars about designing and creating learning communities. We will post links to these resources and later this week will add another archive from last week's "creating learning communities" session.
Increasingly, we hear references to "learning communities" and it is quickly becoming a catch word with an implicitly assumed definition. Lately, I'm not convinced that "student learning communities" have the same meaning for everyone. Let's work on gathering together our experiences and formulate a collective definition from which we can based our discussions.
How do you define a student learning community? What are your experiences with student learning communities? What do they look like and how do they fit into your teaching and organizations?
I particuarly find this topic to be very interesting given the fact that I'm the Community Coordinator for SFU Co-op's Online Learning Community - the first of its kind, and nationally recognized to boot! I stepped into this position nearly 6 months ago and have found the concept of a Community to be fascinating. Our current member-base is roughly 3200, including students, university staff, alumni, industry experts, and will soon include our Co-op employers as well. It's a very open space for students to access career development resources at their fingertips, and to share their experiences with others.
Given the fact that our Community is primarily geared towards post-secondary students, our team has developed a keen awareness to the types of rewards we would like to see students receiving. As a result, I've developed the following (working) definition of what I believe a student learning community is. Please keep in mind that my definition is based upon my online learning community experience, and not f2f communities - although much can be attributed to both, I believe:
A student learning community is a vibrant, dynamic and welcoming environment encouraging interconnections between members of differing backgrounds, interests, and intellect (not only students, but also alumni, industry experts, etc. who provide rich perspective); however, all share a common goal and/or purpose which they ultimately work towards developing and supporting via their contributions. Learning is at the heart of the community's purpose, stimulated by tools that include reflective elements (learning objects), incorporating pedagogy and showcasing practical experience.
At SFU Co-op, we have designed our Community to serve as a much-needed link for students to have access to the latest information on skills development, transfer, and career opportunities. The Community serves as a core component of our blended f2f and online curriculum, and strategically integratesCo-op pedagogy within it's various components (e.g. learning module content, feature articles, interview question tips). It provides an excellent means for us to further emphasize and illustrate the importance of experiential learning and metacognition to our students, and also serves as a prime marketing vehicle as well for our program as a whole.
I look forward to your posts...
In academic communities for class work, exchange is NOT voluntary and may become stilted. This encourages the formation of three levels of communication for academic community purposes. 1) social -- chat rooms, 2) communal -- forums and discussion boards, and 3) collaborative -- productive papers/projects. In business communities of <?> the exchange of information is voluntary and becomes self restricting but can still gain from these three items.
Meaningful content is the catch phrase in the last two. In one study we found that 30% of respondents, in a semi voluntary situation, gave 'social' answers with no or little content. Social answers ranged from repeating the previous statement to a simple, "I agree." 60% made statements indicating little or no reflective or deep meaningful content (mainly feeding off the content contributing 10%). In a manditory situation social contribution fell to 15%, low level contributions rose to 80% and valid content contribution fell to 5%. This seems to follow traditional face-2-face classroom distribution. The entire study is from an unpublished coporate study that is for internal use only ... sorry. There was a brief section on opptimal class size but it was inconclusive. My take on the issue is >15 < 30.
SO... my question is ... how are you approaching the problems of online communities?
Do you have an on campus analog to compare to?
You raise interesting points, in particular, you've noted the need for, "meaningful connection on both a personal level and philisophical/intellectual/academic level as well", which requires an effective communal communication effort. From my experience, these are factors which make grassroots communities thrive. I'm curious about your thoughts and of others, on how we, as designers or creators of student learning community spaces and activities can facilitate a communal communication effort that does not result in "artificial" interactions and where students/members exchange meaningful content?
To what extent does an academic community scaffold the development of community among learners?
I agree that initial structuring of activities and interactions such as in an academic community focuses on extrinsic motivation, and identified expectations for involvement and communication. How do we enable students to move from this to become more intrinsically motived and interact and communicate voluntarily?
This is a response to only part of Bruce's post, and a side issue at that, reflecting one of my current questions:
==I have been racking my brains over the question of how to structure the online spaces to enable the conversations to contnue in a distibuted community. I'm actually assuming some sort of offline contact is occurring. I'm also assming we start with the tools of a forum. I may post on what blogs can contribute later.
Assuming an orientation process to induct and welcome new members, I have come up with 5 ongoing online functions possibly needed in formal taught courses or community spaces to nurture the community side of things. [And I'll return to my take on "What is a learning community?" in another post]
- Cafe - the social stuff. "Related, but off task messages" Organising after class social events, selling textbooks, musing about finding time to do the study, sharing of tips for life in the course/community, organising roming at a conference.
- On-task talk - ongoing, unstructured/semistructured dialogue and reflections. These may be spun off into fully fledged discussions sometmes.
- Q&A - questions you need help with, administrative questions.
- Stories - in some settings, I have found this a useful and interestng facet to separate out.
- Events/notices/news - professional events and activities: conference, workshops, community events, calls for papers, journals.
*Where do you put a message about being absent for a while on holiday? [In cafe or admin?]
*Where do you raise a question about learning styles? [Q&A or dialogue]
*Where do you ask for help on a project? [Q&A, events, On-task talk]
I'm trying to convey to the people I work with in some respects it doesn't matter.
At present I like to have some rich calendar type tools which all members have access to to post items. This eliminates the need for a separate Events forum. A separate stories forum can probably be done away with with extra scaffolding.
So this leaves three functions: cafe, Q&A and Reflection/dialogue. [I should say this is a personal preference, I prefer "How do I get a supplementary estimate out of the ministry?" (where the answer may be "Ask John Smith") to be different to "I'm strugglng with Derrida. has anyone got a short reading suggestion on his theory?" (Which may spawn lots of open ended stuff . . .)
This covers off level 1 and level 2 of Bruce's list. If things are an ongoing (volentary) community there may need to be another space to dialogue about the community and it's life - meta speaking about the community and it's purpose and direction if you like. This also is what I take to be in the 'communal' level Bruce mentions.
Bruce mentions 'collaborative' - this is essential as well. I like to see this separated out also.
In terms of both formal taught courses and volentary communities, I think of this as 'events' and/or 'projects'. Another work area.
Bruce has three things at the end of the post:
Firstly, providing some good online tools that scaffold the community processes.
Next: I think the next thing revolves around purpose and meaning, and value to participation. Wenger etc have several short definitions for a Comunity of Practice:
Thirdly: e-leadership. Quality leadership in a distributed environment.
I know, I know. Stephanie said
Increasingly, we hear references to "learning communities" and it is quickly becoming a catch word with an implicitly assumed definition. Lately, I'm not convinced that "student learning communities" have the same meaning for everyone. Let's work on gathering together our experiences and formulate a collective definition from which we can based our discussions.
I've just picked up on the CoP version.
CU. May not be back for a few days, am travelling.
[Bruce, you asked: Do you have an on campus analog to compare to? Not sure I understand this question]
From CoP's in particular . . by derekc on Thu Apr 27 00:03:00 2006:
Oh right, Derek, I forgot to tell you that I do have a plan for your life. Glad to see you back!
This gives me an opportunity to explain SCoPE subscriptions as an aside for others who may be wondering how it all works. When you enrol in Scheduled Seminar Discussions activity in SCoPE you become subscribed to the discussions we organize in this space.
However, you do have the option to unsubscribe from individual forums, so if a topic comes up that you're not interested in following, you can turn off that forum. Think of it as a listserv with the benefit of filtering the posts. Here's how:
- In the Scheduled Seminar space click on the forum link
- then click on "unsubscribe me from this forum" in the top right of your screen.
- Enter the Scheduled Seminar Discussions space
- Click on "unenrol me from SCoPE Seminars" under Administration on the left side panel.
- To enrol again, just select Scheduled Seminar Discussions from the SCoPE front page and you'll be prompted to confirm that you want back in.
Hope that helps! See, now I have a new item for SCoPE resources to help others, so thanks for being so inquisitive, Derek!
I am going to have to study your response before answering. I too have been wracking my brain on how to do this but not at the higher education level. I try to work with corporate training and education departments to establish internal training and education shgaring resources. I say try because no one really wants this in their corporate structure ... NO ROI!!!
Somewhere I have a paper on the "NEW" Internet that may or may not have a clue hidden in its rhetoric. I will include it (a link to the original site) in my response. I had it right here on my desk just the other day .... my wife cleaned though so .............................
Thank you for your comments Derek.
I am a bit confused by whether we are discussing a community of teachers and educational professionals or a class. I feel there is enough sameness to discuss common strategies and enough differences for those strategies to be uniquely employed.
My Chat and you Café are essentially the same. The differences would be the topics, interaction, and attendance responsibilities.
Your On-track and my forum are the same with the difference being how the topics in a professional community would tend to demonstrate drift and shift to a greater extent than a formal learning situation. In a learning setting, the topics should be controlled and focused with the assistance of the sponsoring professor. This is not to say there should be NO drift and shift but then informal forums can be established to allow for these discussions.
I did not address a Q & A scenario although recently I have suggested a Student Asked Question (SAQ) area to mimic the Q & A of a traditional classroom setting. These, of course, would be answered in depth by the professor.
I feel your last two are definitely for professional communities.
My last one ? collaboration ? is important for both scenarios and I like your work area analog.
Motivation of a group should not be related to the tools with which they are provided. If it is the tools motivating a group of professional anythings, then the community will grind down into a playpen for toy manipulating. I agree that motivation and the resultant participation is a result of, ?purpose and meaning?. I also agree that tools, offered as an aid to organization and exploration, are essential but should not provide the motivation to be there.
When I asked if there was an on campus analog for a CoP I was referring to a learning situation where the primary teaching and learning method is Socratic in makeup, function, and results. How is it organized? Can you draw any parallels to an online situation?
I believe you stated that you feel most participants in an online community will meet f-2-f. I would hope this is the case, however, I am in several communities where the minimum distance is continental. In several cases, the distance to go for a f-2-f is half way ?round the world.
Sorry. Both. But as you say we are trying to tease out the common features and the differences. For me, my interest may be specifically classes where community is important. The common denominator is community - the difference is either
- volentary community setting
- course based setting
- not-course-based and not volentary (as in the case of required re-acreditation setting)
- I can't think of another . . .
And skimming others: definitions, interesting, I'll follow this up and Afsaneh's comment as well . . . -D
I agree that there is some overlap, but what differentiates a student learning community from a community of practice? Wenger's work focuses on the latter and Bruce and Derek have started to discuss similiarities and differences.
A notable difference is the background of the member groups. Working professionals or members of a community of practice have an area of interest that binds them. The individual members have experience and in some cases expertise to draw upon to contribute towards the community. On the other hand, if we're looking at student learning communities, students don't necessarily have the experience and expertise to draw upon. The learning community may be a vehicle to develop experience in a discipline or field, together.
A second thought is differences in self-regulated learning. As working professionals, we gauge our own levels of understanding and experience and participate in dialogue to expand and continue learning. Our motivation is likely more intrinsic.
Students in some cases are still "learning how to learn". Is it a purpose of a student learning community such as one created by an instructor or at a program level such as the Co-op community, to provide some initial scaffolds for students? For example, starting with extrinsic motivators such as required/strongly encouraged participation and helping students to see the benefits of being an active member of the community such as through a rich exchange of knowledge and knowledge-building? Is a goal, in the long run, to enable students to direct or "own" the community themselves? In other words, are student learning communities to help students with self-regulated learning in a community-environment and assist with the transition from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation?
I'd love to hear your thoughts.
My actual work/day job interest is almost entirely with adults. Sometimes they are learners in the real novice sense - eg pre-service one year pressure cooker courses for teachers, generally after a first career. Othertimes they are highly trained and focused professionals (eg a primary school principal) who are filling in some gaps with part time study.
Background and glue. I was going to say exactly the same thing about what is there or not there to bind individuals to a community - or not. I've heard the term 'glue'. Thickness or relationship or connection. The glue of a future/current involvement in a particular proffession/job is strong. It it's not there, and is more diffuse, I'd imagine different dynamics come into play.
This is particularly true:
On the other hand, if we're looking at student learning communities, students don't necessarily have the experience and expertise to draw upon. The learning community may be a vehicle to develop experience in a discipline or field, together.
I worked in an office next to the masters room at the physics department at the University of Canterbury a while back. There was huge sweat and toil to fix the problems that involved computer hardware, computer programming, maths and statistics that were as big as the physics stuff.
These regular informal seminars I sometimes went to were a place to try to get to grips with the overlaps, and share knowledge and expertise. In retrospect I note several things: students have things to share with each other (even if they just learned it last week) - the role of the lecturer/supervisors helped with global perspectives - there was no sense of pure physics, there was always some cross over to other subjects - lots of time was wasted, but you couldn't tell what was wasted or not until later - this is hard to do with big 100 level classes.
This is a learning commuity inside a subject area probably more like you are talking of, but not with the cross curriculum links. in the PowerPoint, even without the audio, I was very taken with the descriptions of learning communities intentionally built across disciplines and built into a week's programme in an insitution. Sadly I know the insitutional barriers to this at the local Uni here would be great.
Stephanies point 2: Self regulated learning. Agreed.
You have raised a few questions here.
I will now change contexts to compare two programmes I work with. Both pre-service teacher training, one Early Childhood and one Primary (Elementary), both 3 years.
The most successful one (IMO) has a longer, slower buildup. The participatns are defined on day one as novices entering a profession, and they are included in the process of making the transition. The idea of the reflective practioner is developed and modelled. Self reflection is modelled, scaffolded etc. And assessed. :-) (A constant staff dialogue surrounds this last phrase!!)
There is a strong focused goal here: to become a teacher or to get a job as a teacher. This strong focus definitely helps. There is not the strong goal in say an English-arts course. The ultimate end for a student could be anything from a project manager, writer, franchise owner etc, but in the study time you are not focused on this. This kind of learning community I have had no experience of, but I can see the huge benefits - thinking about my time at uni I would have both benefited and enjoyed it. Even so, here I'd say (as a theorist) an important aspect is to make explicit the aim of the exercise, the benefits of the community approach, the value of the integrated/interactive types of course activities. The penny will drop. Possibly.
When I taught High School, I did make it explicit that I was there to set up the environment and act as a resource - they were to work together collaboratively to learn. It was 'them engaging with the subject' and it would be hard, but worth it. Not me pouring facts, knowledge and ideas into their heads. If ever I go back teaching (which is possible) I'd love to see if I can find out more what helps make this transition to intrinsically motivated learners.
Well, learning communities. I guess my reflection on the CoP site of things is because most of my work is in a defined domain (like clinical education, video editing, teaching, e-teaching etc) and is professionally oriented (they will probably go out and work in this area, if they aren't already) and where some are very experienced.
As I said above, the description of the learning communities was interesting. And very attractive.
The resources from the two webinar sessions were interesting to me, because they were a different way of looking at student learning communities and an effort to identify different models. As Derek also noted, the models described, were within disciplines and across disciplines, the latter likely challenging due to institutional barriers. Are there cross-discipline student communities at your institutions?
Stephanie, I also found Barb's highlight of Garrison and Anderson's work to be quite interesting, and read through it like a checklist for our own Community:
- cognitive presence: Co-op's Online Learning Community has numerous tools encompassed within the entire platform that have been designed to stimulate and showcase cognitive development. The reflection (it's debatable whether it's sustained - and I think a definition of "sustained" would be useful in this context) is apparent through one of our most personal features, the Community Profiles. Students create profiles of themselves, typically based upon their work term experiences. A reflective element is included within, and we encourage students to constantly update their profiles, stating the challenges and learning outcomes that arose during each placement. I'll provide you with a link to my own profiles (all 5 of them!) to showcase how this tool is actually utilized.
- social presence: much of our Community's social presence is tied into the Community Profiles feature I mentioned above, and also through our discussion forums. An excellent example of students and staff "interconnecting" took place during the Tsunami that struck South East Asia. We had several students on work terms over there, and our Coordinators managed to communicate with those students to confirm their safety in the region - unlike email correspondence, this communication remains in the public domain for all our members to see. In addition, one student contemplating embarking on a work term to Thailand emailed those students already there and was reassured that the area was indeed safe. This is merely one example of the interesting interactions that take place in our forums: some are work-related, and others are people looking for vegetarian recipes, for example...
- teaching presence: This is a difficult one to wrap my head around as the definition is somewhat confounding. I feel our teaching presence is reflected through all of the features we've included within our Community. From the Profiles, to Discussion Forum, and even our unique Interview Question Database that provides students with thousands of interview questions, along with information about the question intent and answer tips. Co-op pedagogy is incorporated and referenced through all of our tools and interactions (at least from staff to student). Students are also able to contribute their own content to every feature, which further enables them to share their knowledge and "reap what they sow", for lack of a better term.
I am curious to see what others think. Do you feel that the elements I've outlined are indeed indicative of the three types of presence?
As for future plans... there's a lot in the works for improvements to current features, and our team continuously strives to develop new ideas to improve interaction. For example, we'll often hold contests, and encourage members to contribute content to b entered for a prize, etc. In actuality though, at some point we'd like to have an increase in members wanting to contribute themselves, regardless of a prize. I encourage you all to share your ideas with us as well!
I think the model applies much more for a 'normal' online classroom/course, with the emphasis on teaching the course rather than community. The teaching presence grates with me in other contexts - I prefer mutuality, recognition of expertise etc AS WELL, (I'm not totally a post modernist wishy washy) - as a model it therefore may be only partly useful as a lens for what I think you are aspiring to be asa community, and you may feel this yourself in the past part of your post. This model does not do you justice I suspect.
I think we could find several models/lenses. I like the ideas of connections, focus, passion, identity, emergent leadership, care for the practice etc, agan Wenger/lave influenced. Etienne/Snyder: three CoP elements - domain, practice and community. Running out of time at this cafe, I'll respond more later. Nice to be onlne with you guys. - Derek
To tackle the first question - Definition of a learning community: I suggest that it can be broken down into its components: community and then layer on learning, then online in some cases. I am thinking of a learning community for a course as I believe the definition can be massaged when we talk about learning communities for other purposes, like SCoPE or an university-wide community. I suppose that is the underlying theme - the definition takes on new life and scope with each type of community. I digress :)
I was just reading Hamman (2001) who quotes a research study by Hillery (1955) concerning the word "community". The essence was that of the 94 sociological defintions of community, 69 were in agreement that community should be understood as (1) a group of people, (2) who share social interaction (3) and some common ties between themselves and (4) share some area for some time.
I suppose that in an education environment a learning community could be a class (students and instructor), who share social interaction for a specific purpose (a particular subject), with the common ties being the course over some time in a classroom. The basic definition has been modified to suit the situation. If it is an online course, the interaction is facilitated in cyberspace instead of f-2-f and the area is the web rather than the bricks & mortar classroom.
Yet I feel that the definition is inadequate as I'm not sure it is enough to simply interact. Does any interaction make a learning community or does it have to be of a certain nature? This question lead me to consider Garrison and Anderson (2003) conceptual framework of a community of inquiry which is made up of three key elements: cognitive presence, social presence and teaching presence. Very briefly, cognitive presence is the "extent to which learners are able to construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse" (p.28); social presence as the "ability of participants in a community of inquiry to project themselves socially and emotionally, as "real" people" (p.28); and teaching presence as "the design, facilitation and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes " (p.29). In this model I see the depth of interaction I envision for a learning community. I will leave it at this point to see what others think. Is it situational? Does it depend on the level of the course? Looking forward to your thoughts.
Garrison, D.R. and Anderson, T. (2003). E-Learning in the 21st Century. RoutledgeFalmer: New York.
Hammon, Robin (2001). "Computer Networks Linking Network Communities". In Chris Werry and Miranda Mowbray(Eds), Online Communities (71 - 95). Prentice Hall: NJ.
I was very interested to read your posting. I know you better in your other life as an Accounting prof, and I didn't realize that you were making a study of learning communities. Thanks for the references.
There is long and intense debate about what a community is: the different kinds of communities, the theories underpinning the concept of community, etc. My simple answer is that a community is whatever it makes itself to be, shaped by internal motives and external forces. I'm sure that is a very weak definition and I look forward to hearing what others have to say .
But I'm wondering, Barb, if you would join me in discussion a more practical issue, and using the particular program we both know so well (you better than I) as a bit of a case study to get the input from others?
As you know, I set up a "community space" for the instructors in a Business program and have been encouraging them to participate. There has been no engagement, and I'm sure that is partly to do with the way I approached it. If there is no engagement, the community obviously can't develop norms or goals or any kind of identity.
What does the literature have to say about forming a community? What are the barriers to participation? What is the role of the facilitator in helping the community to form so that its purpose and character can develop?
Liz asked, "What does the literature have to say about forming a community? What are the barriers to participation? What is the role of the facilitator in helping the community to form so that its purpose and character can develop?"
I think these are great questions and might well be the foundation of my dissertation in the context of an online environment, that is an online community (OLC), not a learning community found in a course. In the community theory research, as Bruce pointed out, there has to be meaningful relationships. I have done a bit of reading and here is a cross section of some of what I have found:
John Gardner (1990) in On Leadership talks about community. He lists 8 ingredients: 1) wholeness incorporating diversity - face and resolve differences; 2) a shared culture, norms and values; 3) good internal communication; 4) caring, trust teamwork; 5) group maintenance; 6) participation and sharing of leadership tasks 7) opportunities for growth; 8) links with the outside world (116 - 118). Given this lengthy list, the role of the facilitator is critical. Barab, Kling and Gray (2004) note that ?attracting a group of people to the forum who will form a community is a considerable accomplishment. It is common for many people to visit and leave without posting messages and for many others to stay and only read public messages (lurking). Further, when online discussions are unmoderated, some debates can be transformed into hostile flame wars that all too easily spiral out of control? (p.4). The OLC needs to find ways to promote meaningful interaction not just visits to the web site. How does information build community? Rheingold (1993, 2000) was one of the first to recognize that community is not primarily concerned with information transfer but information is the currency that keeps the community active and viable. Hence the choice of web material and the topics for discussions are key for interaction. In the communication literature, Sypher and Collins (2001) conclude that ?people should feel real consequences associated with their participation, that they are losing valuable social contact when they do not participate and the payoffs of participating actively are great (p.198). There has to be a strong value statement.
To consider Liz's questions, it seems that the facilitator plays a very important role as this is the glue that holds the community together. The facilitator may be able to select the content of discussion such that participants find it worthwhile to visit. Time is precious, so the feature of SCoPE that allows emails and easy entry to the discussion is a good example of making it easy to access the community. Therefore the technology is not seen as a barrier.
Perhaps John can add more given his experience with the Co-op Community? Why do co-op students come to the community? More food for thought!
Barab, S. A., Kling, R., & Gray, J. H. (Eds.) (2004). Designing for virtual communities in the service of learning. New York: CambridgeUniversity Press.
Gardner, J. W. (1990). On leadership. New York: The Free Press.
Rheingold, H. (2000). The virtual community : Homesteading on the electronic frontier (Revised edition). Cambridge, Mass.: first published Addison-Wesley Pub. Co. (1993) MIT Press (2000).
Sypher, H. E., & Collins, B. (2001). Virtual-online communities: How might new technologies be related to community? In Shepherd, Gregory and Rothenbuhler, Eric W. (Ed.), Communication and community (pp. 191 - 200). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
When I think of student learning communities my mind drifts to my experiences from elementary school through graduate school. I think of the ?other? variables that affected face to face learning. Mainly, the social roles that were both assumed and assigned by and to students. You may think of your own experiences ? did you have a class clown, a dunce, a smarty pants (different from the egghead), a brown noser, etc. Those roles and how we think of them may change as we proceed through higher levels of education ? but, I imagine that they persist ? in one manner or another. We learn from an early age those ?other variables? that affect our educational process. And when we think of online education ? what happens to those roles? Is the class clown able to be a class clown in chats and discussions? How does the brown noser advance his/her agenda? What happens to this avenue of educational culture in an online environment? How does the advancement of these roles in an online environment affect a community of learners? What happens (thinking in a game theoretic model) to students when these roles have been used as strategies to their learning success (in conjunction with the regular meta-cognitive approaches to learning) and the environment has changed from face-to-face to online interactions?
Your questions resulted in me thinking about an online experience of mine and how the sense of community was affected:
We were a group of about 6 graduate students who met online and f2f throughout the semester -- f2f at the start and end points of the semester and the remainder was online. The group was small enough for us to get to know each other fairly quickly. I would say that we were a typical group of students, but we had one person who played as you've called, the "brown noser" and I'd also add, the "sniper".
As the semester progressed, the instructor was relatively absent and popped in online to indicate that he/she would be away or had just returned from a trip. Each time, the brown noser was quick to flatter the instructor, etc. Meanwhile, during online interactions with peers, the person "sniped" through comments such as, "It's nice that you're making an attempt at answering the question, since you have no expertise in the area" or "glad that you were able to finally join us as the deadline has past" (when that wasn't even the case). Even when we tried to clarify what the person meant or tried to raise awareness (with this student and later, to the co-instructor), nothing changed. It progressed to the point that we were rallying around in defence of the person's latest "victim". (Interestingly, the person never said a word in our f2f meetings and yet, displayed a completely different side online).
After a short while the situation became unbearable for the rest of us. The sense of dread and negativity in our learning space was beyond repair and even though some of us did communicate, it was outside of the forum and did not have much to do with what we were learning. Though the students, aside from the "brown-noser+sniper" bonded as a result of this experience; I'm not so sure if bonding to maintain sanity is really a positive outcome of this learning experience.
The roles that students play can negatively affect the sense of community among students and the associated learning if the behaviours are not addressed by the instructor or facilitator. As many people have noted in this forum, the facilitator's role is integral for a successful community. In this case, the instructor was relatively absent and evidently not moderating the discussions.
It seems that in this case, time was an important variable. Given the asynchronous nature of the discussions, perhaps more of the "behaviours" were left unchecked by peers (and definitely by the instructors). We also may have hesitated, questioned and analysized our own responses and feelings towards the postings. However, given the amount of energy it took to try to interact, be supportive and learn, it became too much. After it became evident nothing would change, the community's breakdown was imminent and very quick.
Do others have experiences with the different roles students play (either as their "usual" selves or as learning strategies) and their effects on student community? I'm curious to other people's experiences about the different roles students can have and what happens to them in an online environment as Elizabeth asks...
The instructor was the one with the role-issue. He would sound chatty and informal, then suddenly turn cold and formal and heap on the nasty commentary, and then turn back to Mr. Chatty. It was very unnerving, and because I couldn't connect with anyone in real-time, I had to deal with it alone, until the night he left a really nasty comment in response to - from my p.o.v. - a neutral comment of mine about an assignment we were working on. Two of the students sent me private messages, assuring me that this instructor was "just like that." I'm sure he had no idea how he sounded online.
As a teacher myself in the online environment, I am often quite surprised at how students I know from other contexts will come across in the online environment. Not often, but often enough to note it, I have students psot messages for all to see - directed at me or someone else - that they would never have expressed face-to-face. When called on their "sniping", they often genuine do not realise what they've communicated. I also thing sarcasm does not work well in the online learning environment - and sometimes what one person thinks is ironic banter is plain mean from another p.o.v.
As an instructor, I'm on the course quite frequently, and I will send private messages with a "when you said this, I felt that" approach. If they meant it, they are warned; if they didn't mean it, they are warned and they can apologise and mend their ways.
I agree that the role of the instructor or facilitator also needs to occur behind the scenes and sending a private message in a manner which doesn't presume intention raises awareness and puts the responsibility of one's behaviour on the individual. I've also heard of cases where the instructor responded in the online forum for everyone to see and the student 1. withdrew, 2. recognized the potential issue and made efforts to amend it (i.e. apologized), or 3. reacted in defence. The effects it can have on the rest of the class is a feeling of unease or discomfort, depending on what was said by the instructor and how the student responded.
In developing a sense of community among the class, do you also send private messages to encourage or reinforce certain behaviours that support community-building? Or does the reinforcement reside more with the members in the class?
My online learning experiences were the complete opposite of yours, Stephanie. The year I started my M.Ed., the instructor changed the format of the course delivery. We met face-to-face once a month, and synchronously via WebCT chat once a week. We had assigned readings and came to the chat to discuss them. There were only eight of us in the class so the number of people was manageable.
We found a great sense of community was built. Our first meeting was F2F and we met each other in person. We then went into the weekly chats being able to put "faces to names" and launched ourselves into the topic at hand. I came away from the synchronous sessions very energized and wanting to know more. I was sorely disappointed when the hour was up! We developed, what I feel, was a true learning community. We supported, encouraged, responded to, and learned from each other. The relationships we forged in that group have lasted to this day (six years later) as many of the original eight are still in contact with each other.
With our group, the personalities did not change when online or when face-to-face. I'm sorry your experience was not more positive, and I now wonder which end of the spectrum more acurately reflects the norm?
Thank you for sharing your experience. I'm glad to hear that a sense of community was achieved in your course and relationships were forged. I think these relationships are integral to student-life and we're all the more richer when we have them. In other courses, a few of us created our own informal study-groups in order to get through intermediate and multivariate statistics. I still keep in touch with a couple of people from each class.
You mentioned that there were f2f and online interactions. Can you elaborate on the role the instructor took in both the environments? Was there a progressive change in his or her role as the members of the class bonded?
Some online communities ? coalesce. Some do not. I am probably more Deweyan in terms of my view of community. And the words that come to mind are participatory (the institution is designed for participation), associated living, and shared values. Another word- and my meaning comes more from the field of community organization (grassroots) is empowerment
If educational culture mirrors the larger society, then, we will find that some students may feel apart from or different than early on. Some students learn there is safety in silence and may think that their participation will and does make no significant difference (the same conclusion many researchers reported in comparing outcomes between web-based vs. face-to-face courses). Some may go through the motions of course taking with little cognitive or emotional steam expended. I have not been looking forward to the day when students question why they are being tracked in course management systems (such as BlackBoard/WebCT). I also am a bit concerned that they have not asked. In a face to face course we do not know at what time they opened the required text to read it, how long they spent on each page, etc. Do students feel/think they have enough information to question and influence the role of technology in education?
All members of a community may not have shared values. It does not need to be a show-stopper necessarily. Shared values do however provide a foundation around which individuals can coalesce. Some individuals deal better than others when values are in opposition. My society, the US, is competitive (there are sub-societies and institutions which are not). In an online community, what happens when the values of competition and cooperation are at odds? The competitive learner may choose an array of devices to achieve individual success such as not sharing knowledge or information that may help the community.
In online communities are there shared values? If the students are majors in the subject of study they may have the shared value of the field of study. And then, within the field of study ? is collaboration, community, support etc. valued? For instance, would we be more likely to see an active, engaged online community of learners in a counseling program rather than a business program? If this rather anecdotal question ? bears any reality ? then, how do we convince the learner that the art and skills of ?community? are of value to them?
Elizabeth (or Liz II)
Welcome! I've posted the resources Stephanie mentioned in the SCoPE Seminars area:
I thought I should point that out in case you're jumping directly into the seminar by following a link from another page or email message.
I'll add the second Innovative Educators webinar archive as soon as it's available.
Below are the resources for the second webinar titled, "Creating Learning Communities to Enhance Student Success" which was facilitated by Jodi Levine, Temple University.
Link to Webinar Recording (available for 30 days)
(this will take a few minutes to download due to size)
The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication has a special theme on online communities with a focus on design, theory and practice. The online journal includes nine articles related to current research in online communities. Thanks to Barb Berry for bringing this to our attention.
Stephanie and all:
Good to see this discussion around online learning communities for students. The work of Palloff and Pratt in books such as Collaborating Online: Learning Together in Community emphasize the creation of online community as part of a course. Typically a course based community is purely social where students voluntarily and informally collaborate and help each other free from assessment. This approach can certainly extend and enhance learning but has a very short longevity incongruent with the notion of a ?community?.
In my mind, when I compare online learning to campus based learning, it seems apparent (at least to me) that online learners get short changed. They miss out on the social, team, club, pub, study group and friend making experiences inherent in taking courses on campus.
As a result, in my work at BCcampus, I?ve been exploring the notion of an online community for learners that is independent of courses and seeks to provide a space where social networking, club formation, and study group type experiences can take place across institutions, courses and time. The idea is to complement the online formal academic learning experience with an online informal social networking space that has the longevity of a community.
I?ve been hiring coop students to help create such a space so that it is by and for learners and while a online community environment has been created its usefulness has not been realized.
I?d be interested in whether any of the other participants in this forum have tried something similar or know of a similar initiative we might learn from?
The main thing that seems to have changed since then is that some people who organize and train in online education want to rely heavily on prepackaged materials which tend to isolate students. We couldn't do that as our computers and networks were too slow to carry anything but text. I think we were fortunate to be so limited as it focussed us on the questions of pedagogy and community that are still so important.
You mention students need an unstructured place to talk about anything that interests them including personal matters and complaints about the program. I particularly like this observation. And yet it raises questions around the degree of freedom participants have in online community. Not everyone feels free to vent in public. I've heard comments from some online community members saying they prefer their blogs to forum in communities as they view the blog as theirs and feel free to say whatever they want whereas the community is perceived as a social space where you may have to watch what you say.
I'd be interested in your views on how the social software of the 21st century might change practices from the 1980's.
The project you describe of providing space and an environment for students to build their own community is inspiring. In thinking about how to get things off the ground, I wonder if there is anything to be learned by reviewing the self-help and/or social movement literature? Particularly since these areas of small group learning and community building have some of the ingredients that it seems we are trying to replicate. Wikipedia takes a broad look at community and its characteristics: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community
To me, a learning community is somewhat artificial and reminds me of ?planned change? efforts described in organizational development literature. Where someone from the "outside" imposes a solution to a problem. While there is nothing wrong with planned change it is contrived and often these processes fail, the people most affected are not involved in decision making and owning the process of change.
Similarly, I think that learning communities have the potential to be more like an intervention. Our attempts to foster a learning community, although well ?intended may not achieve what we really want.
I find myself going back to the basic definitions. For me one definition of community is a group of humans that come together (out of their own free will) for a common purpose (social support, self-help, problem-solving a situation in their neighbourhood, playing in a band, building a community garden etc., etc.). The barn-raising methodology that is at the heart and soul of these efforts of citizenship is worth considering in our settings.
These groups and efforts rely upon each other?s resources and strengths; they divide up the tasks that have to be accomplished; they learn new skills and gather information about whatever they need to learn about in order to achieve their goal and typically they do not have paid help in the form of a professional or paid staff telling them what to do. They are ?equals? in the sense of coming together for personal and collective good. Leadership can be either ?emergent? or formally ?designated?. The members are motivated to give of themselves for their own benefit and for the benefit of the whole. They often have processes for making decisions and managing themselves. The feelings of belonging, friendship, of making a contribution and thus of having a meaningful role in the community is why they stay and or conversely why they might leave.
As educators trying to establish learning communities, we need to ask: what is it we hope to achieve through this mechanism? What do learners/participants have to say about this? What would they create if given a simple scaffold? How would learners use a simple scaffold to solve their concerns or make contributions to the greater good?
food for thought...
You've made some deep observations.
I'm particularly struck by your comments on how online communities might be differentiated by whether they spontaneously come together through free will and mutual interest or whether they are planned interventions.
In the case of the BCcampus Learner Community it is definitely a planned intervention just as this discussion in SCOPE is.
One of the interesting dynamics of communities worth more investigation is differentiation between those who lurk and read the contributions of others and those who actively contribute directly themselves. What transitions someone from observer status to contributor status?
With the BCcampus Learner Community to date we've been very interested in what scaffolding might emerge from learners themselves without intervention from us administrators. What might learners use an online learning community for. Our initial ideas were very influenced by a presentation TechBC students made to the Minister for Advanced Education 3-4 years ago. (see attached file) What do learners have to say about this? I'm very interested in hearing the online learners voice and experience way more than we are currently. From my perspective the online learning experience air waves are dominated by the educators voice. Can online community serve as the voice of online learners?
Yes, I too agree that we do not have a sense of what learners have to say about online communities. I believe that we can learn a great deal by going to the end user.
Thanks for the file. It looks to me like the students in this presentation are suggesting a "network" model a space where they can come and go, where they find resources they need, where they can exchange information with each other about jobs, tips on school, career pathways etc. In time, they may even have learning needs that could be fulfilled through this model. I wonder if it might be worth exploring the differences between a "network" and a "community"?
Excellent questions regarding engagement. We know very little as you have pointed out about the transition from passive to active status. Have you got a project in mind to explore your question? I wonder if their experience & perspectives of online community is different depending on the context? I wonder if there is a typology for online communities?
I think the growth and longevity of a community is directly related to the community meeting the needs of its members. If there are no longer shared needs, there is no reason for the longevity of the community.
Let me explain this from my perspective (recently graduated from UBC online Master program). At the end of the program, I started to panic about losing the community and my resources. A group of us worked hard to establish a place/forum so that we could continue our discussion and hold to our community, but after a while we started getting pulled into other ?communities? that relate to our new career, educational, or personal needs.
The community that we created is not active anymore. Did we really need an on-going community? Could an alumni community work? How could we promote participation, and establish loyalty? (I am still determining if there is a need) Therefore, at the end of a course/program longevity of the community may not be the answer/aim.
Do we want to keep all the communities of learning going on forever? How long do we want graduates from 70?s and 80?s to linger on our campus? Do we want all students/graduates to remain active in our community forever? While I am in contact with some of my classmates, and miss the whole ?community?, I am moving to other communities such as this one. I wonder how long this community is going to last!
In the old days of online learning, before online community, there was the "water cooler". The water cooler was also a social space where students could interact with one another but it was recognized that the interaction was short lived. People came together for the duration of the course and then drifted apart and went their own way. A water cooler is not a community - at least not to me.
Part of my definition of community is longevity. You mention taking an online Masters program at UBC and feeling some sense of panic at the end over loss of community and resources. I get the sense that a real community was established. Although you don't say so I wonder whether the program was cohort based? and whether the online community you refer to existed within courses or outside of them? I too am taking an online graduate degree and share with you an appreciation of its value. Would I be willing to pay a small fee to continue to have access to that community and those resources beyond the end of my degree - absolutely. For how long? I'm not sure but I'd certainly welcome the continuation of the community as an option.
I particularly am intrigued by your ideas around the transitory nature of community and the nomadic way we migrate from community to community. How many communities can you simultaneously be active in?
The program was cohort and the online community existed within/through courses. Same as you, I?d be willing to pay a fee to continue to have access to that community and resources, but not sure for how long.
My knowledge regarding ?water cooler? is limited, but as long as participants? ?self identity?, ?social identity? and ?social relations? are formed in a shared space and ideas are exchanged, I would call it a community.
I also think the ?nomadic way? we migrate from community to community is influenced and affected by norms in communities, the way loyalty is established, good leadership as well as our roles in the communities. How many communities can we simultaneously be ?active? in? The answer depends on our needs, time and knowledge.
Pauil wrote, "As a result, in my work at BCcampus, I?ve been exploring the notion of an online community for learners that is independent of courses and seeks to provide a space where social networking, club formation, and study group type experiences can take place across institutions, courses and time. The idea is to complement the online formal academic learning experience with an online informal social networking space that has the longevity of a community. "
Interesting Paul and I agree that the distance student can miss out on what I remember fondly of life at university. In my reading there seems to be a lot of focus on what the "community" adds to the experience, whether it is a learning experience in a course or a professional community like SCoPE or a student community like the Co-op or BC Campus. In your view, what would this social community add and do they want it? I will explain in my context.
I am assisting with the design of an online community for off-campus students. Its value statement includes:
1. graduate students off-campus need access to the same resources offered on campus, such as how to use RefWorks, managing your dissertation committe etc,
2. social networking to find others interested in your reserach area or "people who know other people" or just to share rides to SFU etc
3. program information dissemination - reduce costs of admin staff sending out either emails or hard copy information
4. course specific information - if you can persuade faculty to use the space
5. moral support - your masters or doctorate is a big deal and expensive so access to someone who can help when you have questions
6. one central place to go initially to find out information rather than 6 or 10 different web sites.
7. Someone available regularly to answer questions and direct you to the "right" person.
Hopefully all of this will enhance the program experience and increase satisfaction and retention thereby becoming a way to distinguish from other online programs. I would hope that the reasons above are strong enough to encourage lurking at least in this community space while BcCampus may need to survey the learners to see what they would want perhaps? What is the value to them if they already have their communities of social, sport, hobbies, family etc?
You ask, What does social community add and do students want it? Which you then follow with a set of value statement for creating an online community for off-campus students.
I wonder to what extent the value statements were written by off campus students versus on campus administrators? Part of the challenge with any community is balancing the voice of the community administrators with the voice of the community participants.
A major aspect of the BCcampus learner community discussion has been exactly who is it for and what is the purpose? We still have much to do before the answers to these questions are clear. Your suggestion of surveying students is a good one.
Thanks for joining us. Your work is very interesting and various departments have been chatting about non-academic communities for learners at SFU. For example, Student Life and Residence and the Student Learning Commons have been thinking about what a community for learners would entail.
I have one example to share; The TechOne program at SFU Surrey created an online community (closed access) for its TechOne students (~600). It was launched last fall and its purpose is to provide opportunities for social networking and support their academic learning. For example, there are links to their courses and team information in the Course Management System, online personal planning tools (task lists, calendar), discussion forums, and profiles with tagging capabilities.
We're in the midst of tweaking the community and launching it earlier to the next group of students. (TechOne is a generally a one-year program, but students could take longer). One of the challenges we faced was perhaps in the timeliness of its launch. It wasn't until the second month of classes when students had access. So, the students may not have seen the potential benefits of the community or had little inclination or time to visit it.
The next launch will be in late June, right before students have to register for their courses. Students accepted into the TechOne program will have access to the site which will also have registration information. After registration, links to their courses will appear. The intention is to get students into the community earlier and to connect their orientation activities to the online community, thereby making it a resource and place for interaction with others.
The community serves the needs of the TechOne student, so that can vary from one to two years. However, there is discussion about how to involve TechOne alumni in the community. Not sure about that yet.
Are there more examples? Paul, where is your project at and what are your successes, challenges and after-thoughts?
A community is like a ship;
everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm.
Henrik Ibsen 1882
I am enjoying the conversations. My best contribution on a sunny Friday afternoon, is to recommend the Seven Principles for Cultivating Communities of Practice
With a clear vision, I believe that longevity of a Community is not an issue. Communities evolve and it is only natural to have members come and go. Community members are an interesting breed. Some lurk, some are active on a daily basis, some are enthusiastic for a short time only, some are dormant for long periods. But this is also true also of a f2f community and involvement concerns are the same. If the Community can meet needs and goals, members will remain active.
To be successful an Online Community must have a solid foundation, a vision, a purpose and specific goals. But most importantly, the community must have a facilitator willing to play a behind the scenes role making connections, nurturing, guiding, supporting and creating opportunities of engaging value. The facilitator must be a patient sleuth.
This resource can be located at:
I was a facilitator for a voluntary and highly motivated professional group in an online setting. The experience was an eye opener. Mainly because I had NO control over covert communication. When a disagreement occured I had no control because I had no idea there was a problem. This problem caused a major schism in the community and in the profesional group and the company folded.
"But most importantly, the community must have a facilitator willing to play a behind the scenes role making connections, nurturing, guiding, supporting and creating opportunities of engaging value. The facilitator must be a patient sleuth."
I agree with the basic statement.
Who needs to be the facilitator? Would it be beneficial for the community discussions to be facilitated by a student or group of students, because they are peers? For example, both TechOne and the Co-op community have "student hosts" who are hired to help with community-building? Or in the case of the classroom community, is the role initially the instructor's who models facilitation and then scaffolds the transition to the students?
I look forward to your thoughts about this. Does anyone have resources to share about student learning communities and the roles and related processes?
There are a few points that have been raised which tie in nicely here:
From Student Learning
Communities (vs. CoP's) by stephanie on April 27, 2006 10:14:00 PM:
Is a goal, in the long run, to enable students to direct or "own" the community themselves? In other words, are student learning communities to help students with self-regulated learning in a community-environment and assist with the transition from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation?
From Re: Welcome
fellow communal learners! by mackayd on April 26, 2006 2:13:00 PM:
Perhaps John can add more given his experience with the Co-op Community? Why do co-op students come to the community?
Through my experience, it's been a challenge for us to empower students to direct or "own" the community themselves. Paul notes that he hires "coop students to help create such a space so that it is by and for learners." However, I also agree with the rest of his statement: "while a online community environment has been created its usefulness has not been realized." We also hire Co-op students (on average of two each semester) to assist with administration, community building and facilitation. Ironically, those students who have been employed with us and directly see the benefits daily are the same students who take ownership over the Community. I thought about this for a while and tried to figure out what exactly it is that makes them take that ownership. I don't think it really has a lot to do with the paycheque they receive, but more to do with usefulness and excitement they reap from it.
At present, the majority of our members typically visit the Community (this statement is not based on stats, but informal feedback) to quickly pop in and access the resource they need. This may be a workbook to assist with their workshops, a look at our learning modules, or even a glance at our community profiles to research a company they're about to apply to. But what is it that makes them go that extra step to actually post a question/response/general though in our forums? What makes them see the value of submitting a useful link for our team to post in our weblinks resource section? Once again, I think it all has to do with recognizing how valuable the tool actually is and the power it holds to provide each student in turn with just as much help/resources/knowledge as they invest in it themselves. It's like the old adage goes: "you reap what you sow...' (did I get that right?) We have noticed that once students submit an article, a forum post, or a link, they are far more likely to do so again in the future. As a result, I feel it's a matter of "hooking" them in (for lack of a better term) and then supporting and encouraging development from there.
I've heard that it takes a new business approximiately 5 years to become established and profitable. Do you feel the same may apply to a Community - particularly within the education sector? We introduced our Community to students who were used to doing things the 'old way', and had to convince and sell them on the idea that our Community's tools were just as good, if not better than the previous processes and tools they had were accustomed to. However, now, our new intakes utilize the technology and tools from day 1. As a result, I anticipate it will be approximiately another 3-4 years before all of our students will never know what life was like before the Community existed. I, therefore, believe it will become a much more ingrained tool for them to utilize. I'm very interested in your thoughts about this one.
I'm totally impressed with the SFU coop online community. Kudos to you and the entire team for empowering students to take ownership over the community. I'll be particularly interested to see how students transition to alumni or perhaps industry experts over time in your community. Great observation on how students 3-4 years from now won't even realize there was life before online community. Perhaps by then the community notion will also have morphed to something different?
Thanks very much for your kudos. I'd like to also praise you and your team for the excellent work you've done through BCCampus. I recently had the pleasure of co-facilitating our first joint online workshop through e-luminate Live! recently and it was such an interesting experience for us. I think it may take a while for students to catch on to such a concept as we're traditionally used to our f2f interactions in such a setting. In addition, I find it fascinating to see how technology is also influencing our vocabulary. I heard the term "webinar" for the first time about one-month ago.... I'm curious, do people think these changes/additions to our language are welcomed by our students, or do they make life more complicated and seemingly hectic for them?
I think an interesting tension for online community is differentiation between paid and voluntary contributions. What roles in online community are hired help for community building and what roles are non-paid voluntary contributions. What is the right balance of postings in a community between paid and unpaid?
Thanks for sharing the TechOne online community initiative. I like it!
You ask where our project is at and what its successes after-thoughts and challenges are. Gosh where to begin.
As mentioned in my initial post the BCcampus Learner Online Community has essentially been run by co-operative education students. I have had one co-op student as mayor of the community for the last 20 months. The most recent co-op student, Justine Yang from UBC, did a mini research report for me on online community. I've attached it here. Its quite critical but has many excellent observations and suggestions based on where we are at.
I thought a bit more about student-centred and student-led communities and Paul, do you recall the online community the TechBC students created to support themselves during their time at TechBC? It was "created by learners for learners..."
Some context: The site was started by some learners in the first group of TechBC learners (~90 total) back in 2000. It wasn't officially sponsored/supported by the Technical University of BC, but staff were welcomed to join as well. The learners created this open forum area for themselves in order to support each other through TechBC's growing-pains such as the effects of rapic course-development and a new curriculum, uncertainty with the new provincial government, TechBC's closure, and the programs' move to SFU. As some of us can recall, those were very fast-paced changing times. The discussion topics were created by the learners and as they were needed. I recall that there was a wide range that focused on academic life and beyond. For example, topics to share experiences about courses (and instructors), issues related to student life, clubs, news stories, buy-and-sell, etc. to more general non-academic interests. The site itself and the content were/are not the property of TechBC or SFU and not supported by the university. Instead, students have taken it upon themselves to keep it going.
Interestingly, I've heard that it's now 6 years later and the community is still running strong. It appears to have evolved with the people and the times and is open to any student at SFU Surrey. I think that this community represents a unique and wonderful example of a student-driven community with their identity as TechBC/SIAT/SFU Surrey students as their bond and their needs and interests drive their forums and topics.
Now, I'm thinking about this example and our discussions about how communities we (as instructors, staff at an institution, etc.) create for students may be "artificial", etc. One thing that strikes me is that perhaps one of the reasons why this TechBC community has sustained itself is because ownership and "regulation" are within the students. I remember some instructors being disappointed after reading some comments about their teaching in this online community and some staff being surprised about the language. Though we knew it was student-led, I think not all of us were prepared for the comments, style and behaviour in the community -- it wasn't what, "you'd expect in an academic community"...
Maybe one of the key factors in a learning community's evolution and longevity is to let it grow on its own? When members feel ownership and accountability, then they take on admin and moderator roles, start identifying guidelines for expected behaviours, and so on. People also come and go; the needs of the group and the breadth of membership (the "glue" that binds members) may broaden. There's a certain fluidness.
A second question: If we're trying to create/design learning communities to support students in their learning or academic career, etc. to what extent is the "community's" development (people-side) possibly curtailed due to the imposed restrictions from the sponsoring institution? For example, students may choose to self-identify through avatars that are modified trademarked graphics, or use non-academic (perhaps inappropriate language), or are very open with their comments about a course/instructor/experience they had -- would this be acceptable in an SFU or BCcampus branded learning community? To what extent do our efforts in creating learning communities for students impose parameters and certain institutional expectations, thus curtailing how people interact, the community's self-identity and its growth and longevity?
Stephanie wrote: "students may choose to self-identify through avatars that are modified trademarked graphics, or use non-academic (perhaps inappropriate language), or are very open with their comments about a course/instructor/experience they had -- would this be acceptable in an SFU or BCcampus branded learning community? To what extent do our efforts in creating learning communities for students impose parameters and certain institutional expectations, thus curtailing how people interact, the community's self-identity and its growth and longevity?"
This is an interesting question as Co-op's Online Learning Community is based upon an educational platform that hopes to build educated interconnections between various stakeholders (students, alumni, employers). For the most part students remain professional, yet there are instances where inappropriate language is used on occasion - yet very seldom. Students are so accustomed today to using technology and forums to express themselves (myspace, blogs, etc.), and therefore believe they may feel constrained in an academic community as to voicing their true opinions, etc. Having said this, I believe it's very important that we uphold our professional standards (in terms of how we expect students to communicate) as it's an important skill we all need to develop: showcasing ourselves and our perspectives in a thoughtful, educated, and respectful manner - something that's not necessarily enforced/required through your typical social software. This has implications for many facets of a student's professional life - email correspondence in particular, or if they are required to maintain a blog for their company.
Over the past week, we've started to define learning communities, similarities and differences. I'd encourage you to read the postings from last week, especially if you're just joining us this week. There's a lot of wonderful food for thought. I'll also try to cover factors in community-building/development in my next posting. In any case, a brief synoposis of our definitions of learning communities:
1. Academic/course learning communities (examples shared by many such as Derek, Bruce, Paul, Barb E.)
- For class work (students and instructor)
- Social interaction serves a specific purpose or focus in a particular domain
- Different views:
- Contrived or created/designed by the instructor (imposed motivation?)
- Informal, social, collaboration among students (self-motivated?)
- Different views:
- Exchange is not voluntary (related issues include the frequency, quality and depth of responses) and may be assessed
- Exchange is voluntary (interaction is informal and students help each other) and students are not assessed
- The common tie being that the members of the course are working towards a focus or within a subject domain together over the period of the course
- Students generally have little expertise or experience in the discipline
- Communication may serve social, communal and collaborative functions
- Short-term longevity
2. Student life/Non-academic learning communities (e.g. BCcampus initiative by Paul)
- Independent of courses and academic programs
- Potential to cross institutions, courses and time
- Focuses on social networking, general student life/experiences
- May complement students' academic learning experience
- May provide distance or online learners with a shared space and opportunities for interactions with others that could happen on campus if they were there
- Voluntary participation
- Longer-term longevity
- My note: I've also heard some discussions around SFU about residence life and student life community-building (not necessarily online, but to support these aspects of student life which contributes to academic life and learning)
3. Program level/Integration with academic learning (e.g. Barb E., John G.)
- Integrates or supports a students' academic learning experience
- Cohort-based (e.g. External graduate programs in Education, TechOne) or domain-specific (Co-op)
- Activities are less structured
- May include opportunities to connect with academic learning (i.e. panel discussions or debates on a particular topic that's being covered in a course/across courses)
- Voluntary participation
- Community-building activities and events
4. Business communities/Communities of practice/professionals (e.g. postings by Derek, Bruce, Barb B., Sandy)
- Usually voluntary participation, possibly non-voluntary such as in the case of re-accreditation
- Professionally oriented
- Members may have a high level of expertise or experience
- Members rely on the resources and strengths of others
- Fluid membership and participation by members depending on their needs and interests and topic relevancy
These definitions of learning communities aren't clear-cut either. In many of our examples, they cross two or even three of these "definitions". For example, in Andrew's paper (posted on April 26), the WBSI participants were in courses together, within a Management and Strategic Studies program and were working professionals. In one of Derek's examples (posted on April 29), he describes how he works with pre-service teachers who start off as novices and transition into their profession; their shared focus to become a teacher/be employed as a teacher. How would we define this community?
Thoughtful points were also raised about creating learning communities and whether our efforts to foster learning communities and its potential artificiality may not yield expected results.
I'll work on summarizing our thoughts about factors related to creating and maintaining learning communities in another post -- All of us delved into this theme including questions and insights from Elizabeth L. and Liz W. and oh! I just saw a posting from Wendy too about roles (welcome Wendy).
In the meantime, please continue with any of the existing postings (such as the conversation on longevity and Afsaneh's questions about whether longevity is a goal) and I'd really appreciate if you'd expand upon or refute points in this synoposis. Thanks.
Btw, if you're reading and haven't yet posted, please jump in with even a short posting or single idea. We'd love for you to join us.
Okay, I think my next posting will happen tomorrow. G'night!
Thanks for the nice summary.
I have found a rather interesting piece of research that explores how key elements in the communities of practice model offered by E. Wenger can be applied by educators to assist in bringing about learning communities. This researcher took these 3 key ingredients of to CoP model:
- mutual engagement
- joint enterprise
- share repertoire
Essentially he suggests shifting the power dynamics between educators and students. He calls for mentoring roles for educators to enable learners to assume a "more active and central role" in the enterprise of their own learning. This of course reflects our conversations regarding the role of the learner shifting from passive to active while at the same time the educator shifts from expert to mentor. In the workshop context the results of this study are reasonable since a workshop is just that, a working session where people to work on something together..maybe this is a format to consider in design.
Here's the link:
I wonder what others think about this?
When I cut and paste http://ifets.massey.ac.nz/periodical/vol_3_2000/e01.html into my browser window, with Marginalia doing it's magic behind the scenes, I get extra stuff in the URL field.
The URL cut and pasted looks like this:
From Re: Defining communities by bberry on Wednesday, 3 May 2006 10:54:00 a.m.:
Is there a hot key, a way to hold your mouth or something to chose not to use Marginalia? - Derek
Smartcopy seems to be a nuisance mainly for copying URLs, which aren't automatically hyperlinked when posted in forums here in SCoPE. Adding an autolinking feature for anything starting with http would help somewhat.
Also, I notice that a feature request has been added at moodle.org for an easier way to reference forum posts. Right now it's a little cumbersome. Anyway, meanwhile what I'm hearing is that it might be better for us to reinstall Marganalia without smartcopy. Hmmm, maybe I should do a poll.
Thanks for raising this, Derek! This kind of feedback is really helpful.
My current thinking is a hotkey to switch it on and off; this would be remembered by the software so you wouldn't have to change it repeatedly. The main trouble would be making users aware of the existence of the hotkey, and finding an elegant way to respond to it when pressed (I'm thinking of using the browser status bar, or possibly a brief tooltip-type message).
Looking back at the summary which tried to capture our definitions for learning communities, it's unclear whether it was a adequate representation and what's needed for further refinement. Though the overlap between different types of learning communities was identified, was it enough? Also, it described learning communities in general, and the environment in which the interactions occur, wasn't identified .
Since then, I've found a very nice, "Survey of current research on online communities of practice" (2001), by C.M. Johnson. By examining the existing literature, Johnson differentiates CoPs from other learning situations, identifies theories, definitions, and related concepts, and contextualizes CoPs in the online environment.
How does this change our existing definition and understanding of communities of practice and other learning communities as a result?
Or general thoughts to our summary and/or Johnson's paper?
The digital world is being created all around us at an astonishing rate. The opportunity to become involved educationally, socially and politically has blossomed with the invent of new technology. Immersive online worlds have emerged where many spend of us spend addictive hours bouncing between levels of frustration, interest, excitement and learning. These worlds are the natural extension of the Internet connectivity and continuous-learning expected by us today.
Our discussions over the past two weeks have been focused on defing learning communities. But building a digital community means more than just providing a public space and having a purpose.
John Grant says: "A student learning community is a vibrant, dynamic and welcoming environment encouraging interconnections between members of differing backgrounds, interests, and intellect (not only students, but also alumni, industry experts, etc. who provide rich perspective); however, all share a common goal and/or purpose which they ultimately work towards developing and supporting via their contributions. Learning is at the heart of the community's purpose, stimulated by tools that include reflective elements (learning objects), incorporating pedagogy and showcasing practical experience."
Should the community also reflect people?s values and priorities? Should it challenge, entertain and excite, and drive people to action? Should it also have an emotional side?
Bruce Jones says "There has to be a meaningful connection on both a personal level and on a philisophical/intellectual/academic level as well. To carry this out there has to be an effective communal communication effort."
Wenger suggests online learning communities require "shifting the power dynamics between educators and students...with the role of the learner shifting from passive to active while at the same time the educator shifts from expert to mentor."
As quickly as these worlds are growing, they are also much in need of careful destination-planning and considered development. We must consider not only how to define a learning community, but also how to create the building blocks for these new and exciting digital worlds? How do we effectively motivate, communicate, and involve?
We invite you to take part in a BCcampus live interactive webcast to discuss these issues.
Wednesday, May 10th at 10:00am
Click on the following link to enter directly into the live meeting room. A headset microphone will allow you to interact with participants and share your insights, concerns and questions.