Just a thought about the impetus for joining an online community and then staying in it. I have joined some of the groups in Edspace, which is the online community recently created by CORE Education. I have also created a couple of groups. Why did I join them or create them? And why have I chosen the ones that I have?
If I am honest, the initial reason to join was to support one of my colleagues who was instrumental in the vision and creation of the space and her mahi. She is so passionate about it that I couldn’t help but want to jump in and have a look around and explore. It may also be that I felt a sense of duty or responsibility since this is ‘our’ space and as a CORE employee, I should support the product. But I didn’t have to and there are some people who haven’t engaged. Why is that?
Well, I think that partly it comes down to friendship and relationships. If we trust and respect people, we trust in their ideas and their passion that a place like EdSpace is a good place to be. I am a loyal employee, I have a good relationship with the company and I want to support it. Maybe if those relationships didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have been so quick to jump in? But that’s not to say that those who haven’t jumped in don’t have a respectful and trusting relationship either. So there has to be something else, right?
I have had a positive experience already in online communities. Communities in which I have been welcomed, where dialogue and discussion have been challenging but positive and warm, where I have become ‘friends’ with others who are also involved in them. Some of those virtual friends have become ‘real’ friends!
I am also always game for a challenge, happy to try things out, open to new spaces and ideas.
So perhaps the willingness to get involved is about disposition too, about personality and about prior experience. If someone has had a poor experience in one online community, they are likely to be less confident or willing about getting involved in another. If they are naturally reserved or risk-averse, they may not want to take the step.
Then I think about the times that I have had good experiences in online communities. What were the circumstances which prompted me to join? Mostly, because there was a clear purpose. When I first joined Twitter (which I know is not quite an online community like EdSpace, but it is a community, and it is accessed online!), I really didn’t engage. I joined because it was new and because a couple of other people I knew had joined, but for a couple of years, I really didn’t engage. I didn’t have a purpose, I didn’t know what to do or say. Then, I went to an education conference, I was on my own and although I was in the middle of masses of people, I didn’t know anyone. BOOM! there was my purpose – the twitter feed was displayed on the screen, people were sharing ideas, I needed to capture those ideas, it was a way of connecting to people and having a conversation about what was energising me and exciting me about the keynotes.
Curiously, I became engaged in an online community whilst I was in the middle of thousands of people! Weird, I know!
Another online community in which I engaged was in a MOOC. The first MOOC (and the best) that I was involved in, EDCMooc. The online discussions in that MOOC were brilliant. I communicated with people from all over the world, across time zones, on some amazing topics. We challenged each other, shared resources, peer-reviewed artifacts we created for the MOOC, questioned and celebrated.
So, purpose is key. The groups I have created in EdSpace have had mixed success. The first really was right at the start and I don’t think there was anyone really there to join it except CORE facilitators. I created it to try to get some discussions going about Guy Claxton and his theories on Education as I was working in a school who had adopted his ideas as a basis for their teaching and learning. It has flopped big style. Was that because, whilst I had a purpose for creating it, there was no purpose for anyone else to join it? Since nobody joined, I stopped going there. Nor did I really populate it with any taonga – there didn’t seem much point in putting effort into something that was empty!
The second group I have created is for a group of teachers with whom I am working. They are sole charge principals in 5 schools. We meet together roughly once a month face to face and have really robust discussions. I wanted a way to keep those ideas sparking in between face to face visits. So I broached the idea of an EdSpace group. They were a little nervous but were willing to give it a go. It is still in its infancy, but we are gaining traction. One of the teachers is more engaged than the others, so she and I are really keeping it going.
I use it a little like a ‘classroom’ space where I post pre-workshop thoughts for them to consider before our sessions together, and post-workshop reflection activities. We have also added resources and links to readings, videos, and articles pertaining to the topics we are exploring, but also for other things that come up out of left field as we discuss face to face.
To help them get involved, we have the first 10 minutes of our face to face sessions discussing any ideas that come up in the online discussions. That gives those who didn’t have time to get online in between, a chance to see what the others had said and maybe that will also engender a bit of FOMO too!
I can’t make them engage, I can only provide a space that is welcoming and interesting to be in. And of those in the space, there are a couple who either aren’t comfortable discussing online or who as yet are not comfortable with the technology, so they contribute less although they say that they read the others’ posts. They need to be supported because they do see the purpose of it. For them, it is being able to continue conversations that otherwise they wouldn’t be able to have as they all go away to different schools. My challenge now is to keep the interest going, encourage them to be proactive in the group rather than only reacting to my posts, get them to join other groups and see what others are doing in areas they are interested in.
After reading the introductory article The Spinoff Ātua I got to thinking about the online space and how that relates to the space on the marae ātea. If we can make it a space where we can:
- trade and spar ideas in a respectful, robust and passionate way
- acknowledge each other’s knowledge and experience
- meet as equals
- build partnerships based on mutual respect
- nurture our minds and our souls with new learning
educators will be encouraged to engage, to share their knowledge, to question, to wonder and to learn.
I have considered trying to get other schools I am working in online too. But they are in a different position to my Sole Charge Principals. They already have a space in which they can share ideas on a regular basis – a physical space – their staffrooms or workrooms in school. They don’t see the point yet of sharing and discussing their experiences and ideas more widely. I am sowing seeds. Helping them to see what the benefits might be. Encouraging those who are more open to join individually and find some groups to get involved in. But for the time being I am encouraging ideas sharing in other spaces as part of the mahi. Maybe they will get there.