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Some ideas on community building for #whyopen

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There’s a post over here asking how we can create communities that function well in educational contexts.

It’s a huge question, and one I’ve considered a lot.

Here’s , mainly for me, a summary of what I think might help.

It’s coloured by Communities of Inquiry, and Communities of Practice, the work of Rita Kop,, Bandura, Cognitivism (particularly Sweller, Mayer, Kirschner and Clark) and my own semi sophisticated ideas of what makes us tick.

The instructor.

The instructor provides several key things. Diane Laurillard says that instructors have the greatest influence on the learning landscape in which students will participate. They have a huge shaping impact on the learner’s experience. It may not be ideal, perfect, or the best way to do it, but that’s the world we live in. We have limited resources, and a lot to do with them, so, instructors remain central.

Instructors are engines of value

Instructors provide value. When students get feedback from someone they feel has status, expertise, insight and gives a damn, they tend to value the course a lot more, and work harder. So, give feedback. And take care with how you are seen. More of this below.

Instructors as psychological architects

Students impart value to educational experiences that feel as if they are teaching. And teaching something worthwhile. People will work harder and more if they are within a community that feels well designed.

And that feedback the instructor gives? Modelling the type of interaction you want to happen in your community as an instructor makes it hugely more likely that participants will engage with each other in that way. Give good, insightful, and respectful feedback fairly quickly, and have mods do the same, and watch the number of critical engagements rise. It;ls not surefire, cast iron, failsafed guaranteed, but it does up the num,ber of critical engagements, and their quality.

Utility, worth and why the hell am I doing this.

Adults typically need to know what, how, why, and what the benefit is. If you want adults to engage in a community based learning process, then you have to tell them that they are going to engage in a community based learning process. You have to tell them what that looks like. And you have to tell them how it works. And you have to tell them how it will enable them, empower them, and let them achieve their goals.

We are motivated to do things which give us control over our world. Telling people, explicitly, how the community process they are engaged in will facilitate that expression of control is a huge motivator. Showing them examples that they are involved in is key. Make this an actual seminar, right at the beginning.

Be clear about the utility and worth of the course – this is what it will cover, this is what it will enable you to do – tie the pedagogy in to that – we’ll be using networked learning, so sharing resources over social media, posting blogs and commenting, and making learning visible – as this will help you develop the technical and knowledge shifting skills, and digital literacies that will help you take control of your own learning during the course, and afterwards as well. The community engagement will help you find, sift, sort and critically select from the huge volume of information that;s out there. and provide you with strategies to pick out what you need to push your own learning, ideas, projects and skills forward, as well as techniques that will help you to push our own learning forward, and learn more efficiently.

I once was lost and now am found

It’s easy to get lost. And, once lost, the pace of a course’s progress can seem like a ships funnel disappearing more and more rapidly over a distant horizon. Support your novices – give them easy to use, carefully designed resources to get to grips with the tools they need. Choose a simple, easy to use set of interfaces, and help people who don’t know their way around them.

Provide easy to access centralised experiences that draw everything together. So a daily or weekly seminar or seminars that covers everything in reasonable chunks. When resources are everywhere a central location is key, and helps anchor people to each other, and the experience. Seminars give that location, and they make it flexible – it can reflect things as they evolve, it can include and highlight individual participants, it has a q and a option, and people can ask for help. And it adds to the sense that this is a designed educational endeavour with feedback and instructor access – key to maintaining motivation in online endeavours.

Good moderators a massively open and enjoyable experience make

Hugely key. Cheerleading, commenting, demonstrating by example, picking up the people who are falling through the net, aggregating and sharing, helping people who are stuck in development hell for their blog post or idea – here’s the resource you need to help with that, talk to x about y for a quick answer, try this tech not that, here’s a howto on mysql. Whatever. Good mods are key, and visible.

Good mods, and instructors will come across as knowledgeable – not perfectly so, but competently so – passionate and engaged, ideally have status, or something that marks them out as prestigious, are encouraging, set demanding but achievable goals, give good, targeted accurate recognition, and give feedback. And they are hugely encouraging if they focus on community building with these characteristics in play.

Take merciless advantage of the early optimism

That optimistic lift at the beginning of the course? That’s when you wheel out your big guns. A carefully crafted and put together experience for your learners of how community and networked learning can benefit them an be a huge fillip to community building. This is where you get them The bums are on the seats, the eyes are open, and there is expectation on the virtual room. Tell them how to do it, show them how to do it, be enthusiastic, and be very together, planned, and precise. And provide a tangible experience that gives your participants a real experience of how e community engagement you want from them will enable them to empower themselves.



  1. Great ideas here–really helpful for thinking about online communities, and these points reflect what has worked well for me in online communities in the past.

    I especially like this, which is something I haven’t yet taken to heart enough: “And you have to tell them how it will enable them, empower them, and let them achieve their goals.”–meaning, you have to make it clear what you’re doing and why, and how it might be useful. Of course, since people’s goals differ, they’ll have to be the ones ultimately to decide if the experience will help them achieve their goals, but one could say that, e.g., if your goals are like x, y, z, then this course could help you in a, b, c ways, for d,e,f reasons.

    But a couple of questions:

    1. By weekly seminar, do you mean some kind of synchronous meeting that can pull participants together, helping to provide, as you put it, a kind of centre to the experience? So it could be a presentation by an expert, or a discussion on some video/audio or other platform, maybe?

    2. I’m a little confused on the distinction between instructors and moderators. Can you explain that a bit? Who are moderators, exactly, and what is their relationship to instructors?

    • wiltwhatman says:

      Hi Christina,

      thanks for the comment and the kudos.

      I agree – the trick and difficulty is, knowing what people’s goals are. And the more open, and less prescribed a course is, the more difficult it is to narrow that down.

      If the course, like etmooc, has a particular demographic, that can help. If they are educators, and they are voluntarily doing a course in edtech, then it’s not too difficult to extrapolate.

      In more traditional courses, with specified learning outcomes, and course requirements for entry, it;s even easier. If your learning outcomes are good, well written and selected, and aligned with the course and participants, it’s even more straigtforward.

      And in small; groups, it;s easy enough, over time, to gain a sense of who your students are and what they want, and work with that.

      In terms of whyopen, the target demographic looks like it’s wider, and the timescale looks too short to really get to know people that deeply, and the opneness/networked learning aspect makes prescribed learning outcomes less of a possibility.

      I also agree that goals differ. Some are more convergent – say, for example, a course in firearms safety that is a required qualification for armed policework, open only to existing pilce officers. Some are very divergent – Open Online Courses with a general theme.

      But the general type of encourqagement you mention is still viable, useful and good.

      Re the seminars idea…I wrote in haste, and quickly. One of Rita Kop’s articles mentions the CCK08, I think, had a daily or weekly paper type thing, that covered the themes for the week, aggregated resources, I think spotligbted blog posts, had community feedback…that tyoe of thing That’s one example. Another is the etmooc style daily seminars, which I think worked extremely well.

      I’;d split those seminars into two types. The ones given by organisers, and the guest spots.

      The guest spots tended to be areas of expertise ones, where people had specific expertises – digital storytelling, digital literacy, setting up and runnign a blog. The oprganiser ones tended to be general theory – connectivism, setting up a pln, how and why. That sort of a thing.

      And both very very useful, and helped in different ways. The organiser ones had a big cheerleading aspect, and the expertise ones had a big instructional value aspect. (Of course they bothj cpoulkd and did share and overlap in hese regards. Sue Waters for exaplme, gave lots of instructional value, was passionate about her area, and then went and did a huge amount in commenting on people’s blogs and encouraging them…)

      So, yes, a weekly or daily synchronous event with an expert, pulling people, thermes, questyions and ansers together in one place. Sometimes hosted by a topic expert, sometimes hosted by an organiser. Sometimes hosted by a particpant expert. I would veer away from pure presentation – the interacivity element os hugely important, so presentations, but with a llot of interactivity mixed in. Alec Couros was good at leveraging both interaction and presentation in Blackboard.

      Re the mods. Alison Seaman in etmooc was a mod, not an instructor. Alec was usually an instructor, but sometimes acted as a mod for other instructors ( I think he mod’ed for Sue Waters). Mods are the go to people for questions, support. Instructors are your topic experts, and seminar givers. There’s overlap.

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