What is a community? Reflections on weeks 2 and 3

After following the threads of the FOC course and reading through some of the blogs, my idea of what a community has started taking a different form.

In one of the threads Leigh reacts to a blog post from Minhaaj saying:

Minhaaj then goes on to point out something possibly overlooked in the consideration of communities online – the numerous instances where prejudices normal in face to face communities, are transcended online. This might be something unique about online communities – the idea that age, race, gender, religion, sexuality, while known about by the members, may not be a big consideration in their community.

I read this after I had been reflecting on the matter myself. I certainly be in a community with people Ukrain, Lebenon, India, Sudan, places in South America, or even New Zealand in a f2f community.And I agree with the different voices I’ve been following that there is an emotional investment in an online community just as one would expect in a f2f community.

It is the online aspect that brings people from all over the world together who might never otherwise exchange a single word. This I find exciting, and if all these people come together to form a community, then the world has become a lot smaller. In a f2f setting I’d like to think that issues of gender, age, appearance, etc would not influence my desire to join a community. But the chances of joining such a diverse community are rare in f2f life.

Which brings me back to the definition of a community.  Most of what I’ve been reading follows the same line of course, but I’d like to share a definition from Ken Allan (thanks, Ken!) in the form of a short article called Working with Online Learning Communities. I do this partly because I find it a great summary, and partly because I am overwhelmed by the shere task of requoting all the great comments, threads and posts I’ve read so far.

Reading through it, I’ve highlighted parts that struck me as particularly relevant or interesting and will reiterate them and other thoughts here:

Ken quotes Caleb Clark’s 3 guiding principles:

  • online learning communities are grown, not built
  • online learning communities need leaders
  • personal narrative is vital to online learning communities.

So with reference to this course, does it only become a community if it is successful? If we don’t find ourselves building a community, has the course failed to be successful? Has the facilitator failed to facilitate or have we failed to share the personal narrative? (this is completely hypothetical as I see growing bonds and emotional investment between members of this (very large!) course) Here I would set the personal narrative parallel and in some cases equal to emotional investment, i.e. giving of oneself.

Ken continues to quote Clark with the traits a successful facilitator should have. One that catches my eye is ‘control the environment, not the group’.

Actually, nowhere is the word ‘facilitator’ mentioned. The word ‘leader’ is, and in many online learning communities you could also use the word ‘teacher’, though the role of a teacher may change in an online community. This has also got me thinking about the person in the role of the facilitator.

Leigh has apologized for joining in the conversation and claims that the facilitator should stand outside of it in order to observe and steer as necessary. I suppose this is one way, but if the facilitator is part of the community, I would say he or she has just as much validity in the conversation as anyone else, providing the aim is not to dominate or force anything onto the community, but to share, for isn’t this the essence of what a community is for?

A further question in my mind is how fixed the role of facilitator is. Couldn’t others take over this role in understanding of the responsibility that goes with it?  Must it be a formal role that is given like a title to ‘the person in charge’? I prefer the idea of a flexible facilitator who is also anxious to learn from the others without the urge to dominate the conversation , and is willing to let other members lead the way.

So what is the difference between a facilitator and a moderator? Does it lie in the institutional nature of the group? I would love some opinion here, as I wonder if maybe I’ve mixed the two up.

The final point that has come up in the threads of conversation quickly but not been expanded on is the role of those who do not actively participate, more commonly and less nicely known as lurkers.

Often the question comes up as to how to integrate these members. First, I’d like clarification as to when such a person is a member of a community and when he or she is an observer. In a course like the FOC I’d think that by way of signing up, one has committed oneself to the community. But there are many other communities out there, and the idea of 90 non-active to 10 active participants makes me think about what the 90 % are doing. Are they following what is going on and processing it? Or have they emotionally and physically disengaged from the community? The names may still be on the list, but that doesn’t mean that they are.

How do we find out?  And is it necessary to urge them out of complacency? Those who are still participating, albeit non-actively, may at some point have gained the confidence and knowledge to shout out and become active. And the others? Do we throw out those who have disengaged? Do they need nudging, a gentle reminder that the community is still there?  These are questions I’d like to find answers to in order to support the non-active members in a community.

9 Responses

  1. Nice post Illya, with regard to my apology.. it is interesting to note that you are considering it in terms of the FOC08 course being a community. If it was (and I’m not saying its not) then I think what you are saying with regard to facilitator/leader getting involved is quite reasonable. But if it is primarily a course, where I guess we can assume that a number (perhaps majority) of people have joined because they hope to learn something, then a different sort of dynamic takes hold. One in which I wouldn’t want to impose on the personal development and learning because I might be seen to “know better” because I am the facilitator/leader/ and heaven forbid teacher. All this leads in nicely to next week🙂

  2. Kia ora Illya!

    Thank you for mentioning my contribution to your post.

    I didn’t catch the definition that you said my article was supposed to bring forward though, so I’ll give it here.

    An online learning community can be described as a common place online where its members can engage in community activities in areas of learning guided by a leader. It is widely accepted that such communities hold promise for the effective sharing of skills and knowledge.

    You also mentioned about the use of the word facilitator – that it wasn’t mentioned in my article. The reason I didn’t mention it is easily explained. Caleb Clark, in the same article that you quote from, clearly states, “Call them coaches, facilitators, teachers, or what ever you want. When you get right down to it, it all means leaders.

    Ka kite
    Blogger from Middle-earth

  3. Illya,

    I enjoyed reading every single word, I think you have expressed many of my ideas perfectly. I like the idea of rotating the leadership or facilitation of the course, task, teamwork, or online community.

    Thank you for sharing your reflections for weeks 2 and 3.

  4. Kia ora Illya!

    Thank you for giving me credit for my contribution to your post.

    I didn’t catch the definition that you said my article was supposed to bring forward though, so I’ll give it here.

    An online learning community can be described as a common place online where its members can engage in community activities in areas of learning guided by a leader. It is widely accepted that such communities hold promise for the effective sharing of skills and knowledge.

    You also mentioned about the use of the word facilitator – that it wasn’t mentioned in my article. The reason I didn’t mention it is easily explained. Caleb Clark, in the same article that you quote from, clearly states, “Call them coaches, facilitators, teachers, or what ever you want. When you get right down to it, it all means leaders.

    Ka kite
    Blogger from Middle-earth

  5. Leigh, Your answer says a lot for me. I’m beginning to realize the vague lines of communities, but that makes the role of facilitator, or whatever, more difficult if it isn’t a defined community. So what about ‘modelling’ as facilitator? Every community has its own set of unwritten rules and processes. I’d say that the facilitator has an important role in setting the stage and keeping the community civil through modelling (not to imply a role as police!)

  6. Nellie,
    thank you for your kind words. It’s comforting for me to know that others think similarly and that I’m not off with my ideas.
    I’m reading and learning from you too🙂

  7. Kia ora Illya!

    Thank you for giving me credit for my contribution to your post.

    I didn’t catch the definition that you said my article was supposed to bring forward though, so I’ll give it here –

    An online learning community can be described as a common place online where its members can engage in community activities in areas of learning guided by a leader. It is widely accepted that such communities hold promise for the effective sharing of skills and knowledge.

    You also mentioned about the use of the word facilitator – that it wasn’t mentioned in my article. The reason I didn’t mention it is easily explained. Caleb Clark, in the same article that you quote from, clearly states, “Call them coaches, facilitators, teachers, or what ever you want. When you get right down to it, it all means leaders.”

    Ka kite
    Blogger from Middle-earth

  8. Thanks, Ken, for the definition here. I appreciate your looking in and commenting.

    We’ll be getting on to the definition of ‘coaches, faciliators, teachers’, leaders or whatever this week. I’m sure there will be diferences found, subtle or big by some or all in the course. One such difference that has come up is the implication of teacher as a do-er. I wonder how cultural this is.

    Anyway, more on that subject later.

  9. […] may express some of her concepts through pictures or finding points she connects to in other posts while Greg has been actively representing his thoughts through graphics, while Andrew has started a […]

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