This is cross posted over on techLEARNING. Come join in the conversation.
Anyone who has ever thrown a party or held a meeting has had this unvoiced fear: what if after all the work of preparation, nobody shows up? Or worse, people show up, take a quick look around, decide it isn’t worth their time and leave!
You'd think developing a virtual learning community (VLC) or online community of practice (CoP) would be easier. After all, it's virtual- nobody even has to worry about what to wear! However, with the rise of virtual learning community platforms like Ning and Elgg it is becoming evident that many CoPs are dead on arrival and many others die of neglect early on, in their toddler stage.
The burning question for many of us trying to establish educational CoPs is how to design a VLC that is compelling enough that it will compete successfully for the attention of busy educators? Because communities of practice are voluntary, to be successful over time they need the ability to generate enough excitement, relevance, and value to attract and engage members. This is easier said than done.
One model that holds merit an be found on the Learning Circuits Blog.
It is developed around the roles and interactions members of a community have as participants in that community. It is titled 4L Model (Linking, Lurking, Learning, Leading) and was inspired by comments made by John Seeley Brown in an interview with Marcia Connors for LineZine.
According to David Lee's model the roles basically fall into four blurry types. What role a participant plays in the community is both determined and defined by the participant so they are not strictly defined.
Linking These are visitors who find a community by one means or another. They may have have bookmarked the site or added it to their RSS reader. They are in a “testing” mode to determine if this community if of interest to them and worth giving more of the time and attention.
Lurking Often the largest segment of a community, these individuals pay attention to the activity of the group and occasionally participate in various activities. Wenger calls this group Legitimate Peripheral Participants (LPP). They may be interested in greater involvement, but either don’t feel worthy or don’t know how. For others the content may only be peripheral to their work.
Learning These are regular visitors who contribute to the community regularly. They are considered “members” of the community. Occasionally , they may take on a project or event leadership role as either an “audition” for a more core role or as a way to lead despite overall time unavailability.
Leading At the core of a community are the Leaders of that community. Leadership is a matter of commitment and willingness to contribute on a consistent basis. Leaders may or may not be designated via title. Roles, other than community coordinator, may evolve as needed. Wenger says it is the responsibility of leadership to “build a fire” of activity that is strong enough to draw people to the community and encourage greater participation.
Participating in an Online Community
Around the world, another blogger friend and colleague Derek Wenmoth created a similar framework to Lee's role-based model to discuss the ways in which people participate in online communities that develop around blogs. His diagram attempts to illustrate how participants in the online environment move through phases as they gain understanding and confidence.
His phases are as follows:
consumer - The first phase is where participants (often referred to as lurkers) simply read and explore the posts of others. Far from being passive as the word lurker suggests, consumers can be very active participants in an online community - just not yet visible to others.
commentor - as this label suggests, these people make comments on others posts (either on blogs, or in discussion forums), often seeking clarification, agreeing with a statement, or offering a suggestion or link to something similar.
contributor - as this label suggests,
contributors are those who have started their own blogs or who initiate
new threads on discussion forums. They are confident about putting
forth their own ideas etc.
commentator - a commentator is someone who frequently takes a 'meta' view of what is going on, providing a level of leadership within the community. Their contributions will often draw attention to the 'bigger picture', making links with other work - analysing and synthesising the contributions of others.
Ted Rheingold, in his presentation entitled The State, Future & Business of Passion-Centric Online Communities, shares that passion centric communities consist of like minded people who come together to amplify their passion. Rheingold says that in the future there will be tens of thousands of these passion-based communities. They will be everywhere. The web is just the launching point. Think cell phones/MMS, PDAs, console-gaming, hand-held games (PSP/DS), DVRs, carbased computers. Communities will meet where their members are. That the VLCs of the future will not be web communities they will be networked communities.
The Venn diagram photo which accompanies Ted's piece is sourced here:http://flickr.com/photos/91506145@N00/255028065/ and was part of a talk published here:
by Nancy White, a well known and highly respected e-facilitation and e-community specialist.
The natural cognitive connection for me was to passion-based learning. Creating online communities with content experts that correlate to the units of study that are driven by student interest and passion that we deliver in our classrooms.
The Art of Community
In response to a recent post by SETH GODIN, bestselling author and agent of change -where Seth said that the #1 job of the future will be that of online community organizer, Peter Gulka started up People Weavers - the community for community organizers. http://www.peopleweavers.com. Peter feels as this field emerges, we will need a venue to be able to work with each other, discuss best practices, recommend tools, and collaborate on the hurdles we all face.
While perusing his site I came across a clip called The Art of Community - OSCON 2007 which is a panel discussion led by Dawn Foster, Director of Developer Relations at Jive Software. The panel discusses some of the theory and practice behind online communities. Here are my notes and reflections from this clip.
What makes a healthy community?
- Really active and consistent participation within the community. Community members really start to moderate themselves. It isn't just the moderator that handles issues. And members greet someone when they are new and answer questions and do not just point newbies to a FAQ doc.
- Gathering data is the first step to knowledge and wisdom but sharing data is the first step to community.Henry Gates
- Size of the community isn't as important as results. Participants ask themselves what is the benefit of membership? What is the value added? How good a job does the community do of taking all the information and redistributing in an effort to give something back?
- Don't freak out when you have a problem in the community. Communities, like families, have problems. You can work through them.
- Healthy communities are self-managing and self-governing. Members have a sense of ownership.
- Community organizers should view their role as part of the community, not feel they own it.
- The way to get status within the community will be from love and kindness if the community values are structured in such a way that status is gained through good community citizenship rather than showing off. Ranking should be made on the value of the contribution, not the number of times you post. If it is just the number of times you post, then a person who is a drag on the community might be considered high status because of frequency of posting.
- Better title for the organizer is community instigator. Have the philosophy that everyone is a leader. Ask what do you bring? Where are your talents? There is a place for everyone and everyone in their place.
- Brownie point cards are handed out when organizers catch you being good, this encourages people to do nice things for people within the structure. The cards can be redemed for prizes.
- There was push back that Karma points-- reputation points- are doomed to failure because it is based on extrinsic not intrinsic motivation.
- Is there such a thing as a community that is too large? If it is too big, you have to think through how to break down areas and build community for the new subset communities.
- Community doesn't scale ever. Hierarchy principles and leadership are different. You can have 50 people who are getting their needs met and 2000 that are frustrated. Which is community?
- Are communities commodities? Do we set up a market when we create a community? The value isn't in the community it is in the commiters. The value is in the community members that are producing.
Finding Our Way
I'd like to end this post with a quote.
It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.
And as we attempt the adventurous and exciting Craig Bellamy has shared an Online Community map that is sure to light the path.