Learners determine community?

“For a community to emerge, a learning environment must allow learners to engage each other intentionally and collectively in the transaction or transformation of knowledge. It isn’t enough that material is presented to people and they interact with the instruction. It isn’t enough that the learners interact with instructors to refine their understanding of material.” ~ Schwier

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The reason I truly love my job is the relationships I build with my students.  If I took that away, I’m not sure I would teach.  So I would suggest that community isn’t important, it is everything.  I would be bold enough to state that I know how to forge relationships and community within my face to face classroom, but I’ve never been forced to think about fostering an online community.   How does this translate online?  I agree with Schwier’s quote stated above and I think online learning requires even more intentionality to create community than f2f environments.

When thinking about creating community, the following quote stopped me in my tracks:

… ultimately it is the learners who will determine whether a virtual learning community emerges. Learners have control over the quality of collaboration that happens online, and if they reject the invitation to elevate their engagement with each other, we will be left with something less—a cohort, not a community ~ Schwier

Whew!  This is a bit daunting when you think of facilitating community, but it does make sense.  Alec alluded to teaching two different sections of the same class with the same content and having very different communities emerge.  So while he maintained the same expectations, the only difference was the students.  From experience in this class (and ECI833), as Andrew and Elizabeth also alluded to, Alec and Katia do a great job of establishing community.  But from this quote, I guess as students, we (ECI 834) are also invested in the collaboration offered to us.  So knowing this reality, how do I encourage authentic engagement and quality collaboration to create community amongst my students in an online environment?

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I’m not sure there are hard and fast rules to achieve community as each community is so unique. My course will be a blended course so many relationships will be established due to the reality that we also exist in f2f land.  So the actual question I need to address in establishing community is how do I establish engagement and collaboration so that my students are learning from each other and their engagement is authentic?

Photo Credit: austinhumphreys Flickr via Compfight cc

As Lindy alluded to in her blog, our prototype is for middle years and this age group has many idiosyncrasies.  So we will keep their strengths and weaknesses in mind as we design interactivity.  (Strengths and weaknesses are terrible terms, but I couldn’t think of any other??)

  1. Strengths  – love to visit, love to be engaged online, like change, need variety, generally want to do well, seek relationship, like choice
  2. Weaknesses – like to complete tasks quickly, feel vulnerable, not always sure what to do, easily off task, want to look cool and not stupid

Here is what we propose to allow students to be engaged and build community/collaboration:

  1. Blogs – We will use individual student blogs throughout.  These blogs won’t be exclusive to the prototype but used generally in the classroom as well.  Within the blog, students will be required to post, comment, and create pingbacks to facilitate interactivity and connections.  Elizabeth did a great job in her blog of laying out how students need to be taught how to do each of these components.  In order to experience success, students will need models, guidelines, expectations, and encouragement to understand how to effectively use their blogs and create quality interaction instead of just completing an assignment.  I think they will love to insert videos, links and photos to further represent their ideas.  I believe the use of blogs allows students to truly learn from each other and see that they have original ideas apart from the teacher.  The teacher can take a step back as students encourage and learn from each other.  Teachers will also take on a role of commenting on their blogs at times.
  2. Collaborative projects – Throughout the course, students will be working in groups on a common ecosystem that they’ve chosen.  When each concept is taught/presented, students will refer to their specific ecosystem to pursue the concept.  In the end, groups will work together on a project related to their ecosystem.  Lindy discussed that we may use Explain Everything as an app for their project creation – though I believe we will still provide choice.  Collaborative projects allow students to make their own choices and develop their own ideas while working alongside peers.  Students are able to focus on their strengths, discuss options and create their own learning and understanding which I hope allows more investment and engagement.
  3. Other interactions – We are using google classroom which allows students to comment on specific assignments to ask questions or make comments within the modules.  In addition, within our individual modules, we may use other interactive options such as flipgrid (although I’ve just recently introduced this and my students are hesitant – there’s that hidden”I feel vulnerable and don’t want to look stupid thing” – we’ll see how it goes) or google docs to allow for collaboration as most middle years students like to work together and want to see what their peers are doing.  It also allows for change and variety.
Photo credit: Pixabay

Ultimately, I think community begins with me – my ideas, my guidelines, my planning and my excitement and energy.  However, the extent and depth of that community is determined by my students as they determine their level of investment.   Hopefully I am setting up an environment where community can thrive.  Do you have any other ideas or suggestions? Any ways to engage and encourage collaboration within this ecosystem prototype?  I’d love to hear them.




2 thoughts on “Learners determine community?

  1. I have to agree with you 100% that relationships are a major part of why I teach…I had a really bad day a few years ago where I was ready to quit and my best friend asked me “But what would you do without those kids?” Low and behold, I was back to work the next day! You mention that your own planning, guidelines and ideas will be the first step but I think the most important parts will be your excitement and energy. I was nervous when I signed up for ECI834 and saw how much online and outside of my safety zone this course was but the excitement and energy of Alec and Katia as well as the others in the course have alleviated all of my concerns! Great post, it looks like you are well on your way to an online community!

    Liked by 1 person

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