Week 1 takeaways

So week 1 is already over! Wow that went quick. The case studies on ‘constructing community’ have provoked some real food for thought, particularly given the polarised situations in the examples.

A few key points and thoughts from the first week:

  • Whether the student environment is online or offline, the complexity of community doesn’t really change. It may be different in format, and with different challenges, but ultimately all individuals within a community are unique with their own needs, personalities and capabilities. In short, ‘digital’ doesn’t seem to dumb things down, or make it more straightforward. Instead it may heighten certain issues (e.g. the feeling of being swamped), reduce others (e.g. physical impairment, and unconscious bias towards this), and bring new challenges to the table (e.g. increased diversity of nationalities could bring cultural clashes to the fore)
  • Tutors or leaders within a community have a tough balance to strike! Be too interventionist and the community could lose some of its as yet unexplored potential, – the value be ‘throttled’. Keep things too unregulated and focus could be lost, and the community could become a real turn-off for some.
  • How someone designs an online learning environment has a major bearing on the nature of the community within it. It seemed to me that in several of the examples, the structure of the course influenced a student’s reaction and ability to ‘learn’ from it. Perhaps in the past I’ve underestimated this. However, I also think that building community is not something that can be overtly designed (see my first point about the complexities of individuals). Perhaps it is also about ongoing refinement, and being observant of any improvements that could be made from one iteration to the next.
  • Digital literacy is likely to play a part in the participation levels within a community. It seemed to me that in some of the examples, some of the causes of the challenges could be placed with the individual, rather than the learning experience itself. Again the tutor has a tough job to identify these and support when it makes sense to do so, particularly when in an online environment it may be more difficult to spot those struggling (they may just go quiet) than compared with the more traditional classroom. And how do we avoid losing their contribution in the community discussions?

And finally, one rather pertinent point:

  • There is a huge amount of value to gain from a community within a learning experience! May sound like a rather odd thing to be explicit on, but I’d previously mentioned that ‘community’ has not been a common element in many of the online learning experiences I’d had (or created – for a variety of reasons). I’ve been massively impressed (but not surprised by this!) by the other individuals in the groups and really benefitted from their expertise and opinions. Being able to see the group interact with each other, and challenge each other (it’d be great to see more of this though), really enhances your own thinking, rather than relying on one source of expertise or content. It’s going to be interesting to see how the community develops over the next few weeks, particularly when initial novelty value and enthusiasm may wane?