The sustainability of online communities

In a metacognitive reflection on her experience in the ECI831 course, Dramateach writes: “I long to take more online courses and continue my interactions long after this course.”

As a researcher of online communities, this is of great interest to me. How can we best implement and sustain online communities so that once the course/training/groupwork is over, individuals still leverage this powerful learning community?

This is not a common concept in online learning. We have never been encouraged to keep the community alive. I know from personal experience that there are times when I was very sad to see a course come to an end and I would have liked to be able to login again and gather with my colleagues. Interestingly, a few students collaborating to my research have expressed the same feeling. One described her feeling as if she was mourning the loss of something important. Most of the time, what happens is you’re closer to a few of your peers, you have their email address and you feel free to contact them whenever you want. But that’s generally only a handful of people. The community itself no longer exists and it is unfortunate. Remember Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach famous “None of us is as good as all of us”? If you’ve spent weeks getting to know your peers, establishing a relationship, creating a positive learning atmosphere and interacting with them, these efforts should not be in vain. This is a wonderful opportunity to keep the conversation going, to collaborate, to assist, to share, to contribute well beyond the virtual class’s “walls”. More on this later.

Dramateach also writes that she would have liked to be able to have some resources ahead of time “so I could practice in advance of the course rather than doing it all right now”.

Again, very interesting. A fundamental aspect of learning communities is engagement. In this particular case, Dramateach expresses her need to get even more immersed in what she is doing and has identified the conditions to reach her goal. This is typical of a course where students can go beyond the first levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, namely, remembering and understanding. I may be wrong – and would welcome her feedback – but to me, Dramateach obviously wants to actively apply her new skills and wouldn’t mind putting in some extra hours at the beginning of the course to ensure that her skills are up to par and she will fully benefit from this training.

She concludes by explaining that now that she is familiar with Delicious to keep track of sites, she “needs some work on learning how to organize such material.” She is in “problem-solving mode”. I would say that Dramateach has definitely learned a crucial skill in this course: she knows that she is in control of her learning and that she can improve her skills through self-exploration because she knows where and how to get relevant information. Well done!

I wish all course participants the chance and privilege to continue to interact in a truly rewarding learning community after December 2010.

This entry was posted in Collaboration, Community of Inquiry, Discussion, Interaction, Online learning, Online students, Socioconstructivism, Sustainability and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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