be there or be square

I’ve been thinking lately about the relationship between instructor presence and community. I think there must be a very fine balance to achieve between “being there” and letting community happen (in other words, not squashing community by virtue of “being there” as instructors).

In a response to Felton Square’s interesting post about community, I mentioned that in a course I was recently teaching, a student said that when instructors had “gone missing” in  courses, community had really developed as students had to cling together to survive the courses. I was suprised, not only by the fact that instructors (notice the plural word form there) would “go missing” in the middle of a course, but also that doing so would open up opportunities for community. The instructors left the virtual building, but the course and students went on…

Lisa Lane notes that she does not intentionly structure for comunity. She states that it either happens or it does not. She asks the question whether community is up to the students anyway. Perhaps it is. And perhaps it should be. A more natural, virtual approach to community is an appealing idea.

For me, all of this has raised some questions:

  • In online courses, how do we know when we have moved from communication to community?
  • Who is responsible for developing community in online courses?
  • Can a strong instructor presence be an impediment to community in online courses?
  • How do we balance between “being there” and “being square” (squashing community)?
  • Do we need to let students know that community is at least in part up to them? If so, how do we do that?
  • Do we need to prepare students to assume roles in a community? Or at least make them aware of the possibilities? How would we do that?

Tough questions to be sure, but I hope to hear some of your thoughts about how to (at least in part) answer them!

4 thoughts on “be there or be square

  1. Community online is one of those things that you seem to know if it you’ve got it, and that you sure know it if you don’t; Claire, think I’m quoting you.

    You also mentioned that online communities are base on interest, sharing knowledge and information learning informal, I think you are absolutely right. My whole career has been base on what you describe as online community.

    I’m a technologist with a broad background from electronics to film production and I have relied on online communities for information, learning and knowledge sharing; to help me find work, stay abreast and problem solving. But I never thought of it as communities until now, Pedagogy First!.

    Maybe communi-cation is communi-ty, either verbal or written; I communicate with a lot of consultants and vendors, for services, for information all the time; I may have a conversation with a vendor or consultant for an hour to 30im and may never talk to that individual again, but within that 30mi to hour time span we my develop a sense of community by asking about the weather, or a share understanding of events and share needed information, to help each other,help each other.

    Responsibility? Students should share in this responsibility the learning process is a two-way-street, and this should be stated with devices to promote
    community/communication engagements online.

    Instructor presence should be as needed; maybe instructor or teacher assistant can participate incognito, at as a catalyst to help keep things moving along, like a pace car in a race.

    Student lounge: If creating a space to support informal/formal community/communication; we should state how it can and should be used, maybe leaving some commitments from last semester class to give students a sense and feel of how it works.

    Roles in a community: this is a good idea when appropriate; one possibility students could pole their class mates on a subject to start a conversation, informal topics for discussion, asynchronous debates.

    Claire, very good questions to ponder, thank you.
    I’m always Square, but the good kind (:
    Felton Square

    • Hey Felton,
      When I wrote both the title and the content of the post, I wondered whether I might hear from you! Thanks for the good comments and suggestions!

  2. Pingback: Summary and reflection | Claire Major's Blog

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