Monday, October 05, 2009

Relationships and Communities

Relationships and Communities

Building a community is one of the most important things you do in a distance learning class.

This pearl of wisdom has been repeated throughout my studies as an instructional technologist.

I'm certain any one of these scholarly documents will provide research-driven evidence and appropriate models for identifying, using and building communities in a distance learning environment.

The following comments are not backed by any research. Just observation.

Give me a couple of seconds while I put on my flak jacket....

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In my social media participation, I am seeing the following models:

- Fully online communities built around common interests / experiences. I see this in Twitter (#lrnchat), subject-specific message boards, World of Warcraft and other MMORPGs, etc. Later in-person contact may or may not result from the relationships built within these communities. Actually meeting a member of your network isn’t the point. I have personally found that the more well-established the community, the harder it usually is to break into and the more subtle the cultural norms.

- Online communities based on personal history. Facebook, for me, is a great example of this. I am talking to people I haven’t seen in 20+ years. We may be geographically distributed and I may never be in the same physical space with some of these folks ever again, but we can keep in touch and maintain community through these tools. Ultimately, you wind up creating a personal community revolving around “you”.

- Online communities supporting personal interests / shared activities with a central in-person element. Many of the classes at my university have a chat and/or blog component to supplement the lecture and facilitate further discussion. A very good, non-academic example is how Potomac CrossFit encourages all of their members to comment on the message board and create their own workout blogs. We may not get a chance to talk to each other during the workouts, but we can chat through the comments. (Warning, some of the comments may not be safe for work). The online reinforces the physical community norms. I also find this type of community more comfortably inclusive, particularly for those of us who feel a bit awkward in group settings.

- Fully in-person communities. Often this is a result of proximity. The folks I work with (even though a few of them lurk on this blog) is a primary example. The closest thing to an online element is minimal participation in Facebook or the regular IMs and emails sent.
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What has made the advent of robust social media tools so valuable is the broader range of relationships I can develop.

Most of my childhood friends have moved on to develop interesting careers. I can get professional feedback from them as well as say “hi”.

There is the “network of spies” that has developed through this blog and Twitter.

There is the support system and consistent reinforcement team I now have through PCF as I attempt long-term behavior change (exercise and eating better).

The most comfortable communities and relationships, for me, are the ones that eventually hold the promise of an in-person element.

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