Given our assignments and readings and Todd Conaway’s synchronous session (as well as some academic writing I’m doing at the moment), I’ve been thinking a good bit about community in online courses this week, both what it is and how to get it.
It seems to me that community in an online class is something of a different animal than other kinds of community that we think about as teachers. It is not the same as community in an onsite course, which we establish quickly by sizing each other up by appearance, telling jokes, agreeing or disagreeing with each other, either verbally or non-verbally, etc. Yet it’s not the same as online communities which are based on interest (and sharing knowledge and information, and thus learning, if informal) and are completely voluntary. These take a long time to establish, and members can engage in legitimate peripheral participation, or lurk (as Lave and Wenger suggest), prior to moving to engagement and then ultimately involvement and leadership in the community. So community in online courses seems to me to have characteristics of these two types of communities, but it cannot be characterized as either.
So what is that different animal? That is something I’m not at all sure about. And it seems to me that it’s difficult to figure out how to get/establish “it” if you don’t know what “it” is.
That said, I think community in an online course is one of those things that you seem to know it if you’ve got it and that you sure know if you don’t. And I think some of the activities in the book and some of the things Pilar suggested in the video are great, and they seem like legitimate/useful suggestions for how to get “it”.
It might be an interesting exercize to look at what our practical experiences suggest works and sort of reverse engineer a definition of what community in an online course really is, which might in turn help us come up with even more ideas about how to accomplish it.