Sunday, December 13, 2009

Reflection of the different facets of online communities

What is an online community? For me it is many things and I am now finding it difficult to comment on this without overstepping into the realms of the other topics. This online community has been a mixture of Etienne Wenger’s community of practice, Downe’s networks, Dunbar’s groups and Tonnie’s theoretical framework of the purpose and function of a community. The difference being that the location was online in/on/via many different platforms. I have met, peers, colleagues and friends via this course and like Debra M and Hervè, I will be keeping an eye on FOC10. I feel that a bond has developed within the community and feel honoured to have experienced this course with this particular group of individuals.

Facilitating, moderating, or teaching. Now this one flummoxed me and I thought that it was the red herring to encourage engaged debate. I did haunt me though, even when I was ‘facilitating’ my online session the little voice inside my head was chanting Debra - facilitate, facilitate, facilitate! I posed the question to one of the presenters in an online session, conducted an e-interview with someone who helps moderate (her term) a very active discussion forum. It appears that we all have different views. My view is that they are all skills needed to participate in an online community or to run an online event. We have to do a bit of teaching/facilitating as we assist attendees to the session or newcomers to the forum to navigate the technology of choice. Moderating was the most clear cut for me as it has connotations of power. Interestingly the discussion forum interviewee perceived a facilitator as holding the power.

Discussion forums. I consider myself to be an establish forum participant. I was the medium of choice when I sought advice regarding my move to NZ. I recall being in the lurking phase for a very long time but once I took the plunge it was plain sailing. I would join another discussion forum for advice, I guess this relates to the subject – object debate and crosses over into the realms of networking. On reflection the object focus of the forum is maybe it was so successful for me. I use the discussion forum on the CPIT Moodle site, again this object focused as it was developed for a Metrogroup collaboration. Does this mean that I am an objectionist?

Blog networks. The only blog network I have used is this one. I have found it very helpful in maintaining the online community and I have learned a lot from reading the posts of my peers. I did have a bit of a wobble part way through the course as my workload picked up and my posting intentions suffered. This has also been useful for me when reflecting as I can see how my thoughts have changed over time and through the use of the blogging network. A great way to share links to resources as well as thoughts and feelings.

Wiki collaborators. I struggled with this which is annoying because I want to use them in my work. I found the user interface demanding and I guess this is because other platforms are so user friendly. I can use a wiki, I just need to discipline myself to get into using the html codes. I have two pages in wikieducator that I haven’t quite completed.

Virtual Worlds. I loved this and it’s part of the reason for not blogging as much as I should have. I found it totally engaging. I was disappointed to miss Sarah’s session but very grateful to bump into her on second life and have a tour around the birthing unit. Dr Scott Diener gave a presentation on second life at Ascilite 2009. Interestingly, one of the questions from the participants was along the lines of ‘but if second life is so good, why have you built a lecture theatre?’ Loved his response – it’s what people in education relate to so that’s a good starting point. Having said all that, second life does have its limitations, it requires an advanced computer system. My laptop is a few years old and so the background takes a while to load up. If I was to use it for educational purposes, I would need to ensure that it is accessible for all. Fantastic potential.

Social networking platforms. Here I dove in to the deep end. In 2009 I joined NING; Dim Dim; Cloudworks; LinkedIN; GRO.UPS; Second life; twitter; friends reunited (again). I have been on Facebook for a couple of years now so that is my choice of platform. I find it confusing to have all the various platforms on the go. I am giving twitter a good try and will keep up to speed with Facebook as that’s my man channel of communication with my family around the world. I take note of Herve and Krishnan’s words of caution, I am cautious/suspicious so I do not have full personal details up and only use the basic functions in Facebook as it serves my purpose.

Reflecting on the different kinds of online communities. I guess that this in integrated into the above I will travel between the dichotomies of subject versus object based communities as it suits my needs. This is the beginning of my journey.

Facilitate an event for the course mini conference. What a learning curve this was, it included the good, the bad and the ugly. Like Catherine, it was probably one of the highlights of the course and I enjoyed it even though it did go pear shared in the middle.

Evaluate the facilitation of an online event. I used Bronwyn Hegarty’s framework which I found very useful. I now have clear ideas of what my nest online session will be like. I would do it very differently but it’s all learning so nothing can be taken for granted. The cats out of the bag and it ain’t going back in.

The course overall

It was hard work, time consuming, and challenging as others have noted in their blogs but you get out of it what you put in. I feel as though I have got a great deal out of this learning experience. I enjoyed attending the online sessions, thank you colleagues. I felt frustrated when I couldn’t access Skype at work or had forgotten to bring my microphone home with me so text was the limited mode of participation. But it has given me the authentic experience of being an online student and some valuable learning that I will share, hopefully for the benefit of students. Sarah, you have been a great role model. I think an online session at the beginning of 2010 might the graduates of FOC09 might be in order to share some of our experiences. As James Clay said at Ascilite, technologies are changing and so is learning.


  1. WOW Debra , you said it all.Enjoyed reading your reflections.FOC was a full on course and i guess its about exploring more and learning more.
    All the best.Meena

  2. Thank you, Debra for this post which brought up lots of questions and issues that we can all keep reflecting on.

    Thanks for the suggestion of getting past students to talk when the next course starts - I think that's an excellent idea. Thanks.

    There's a few more comments I want to make so will get back to you. Trying to catch the dealdine for the results meeting today :)


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