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Community 101 Series: Purpose and Gathering Strategies

Posted Mar 02 2011 9:14pm

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. – Charles Darwin

One thing we can count on in the era in which we live is Change. We are living in fluid and dynamic times. Things change, towns change, and people come and go in our physical lives. But what makes the coming and going a different experience than even ten years ago is how we define near and far. Thanks to Facebook and the ease with which we can build other social spaces, we can continue to be near to friends who move far away.

It is also easier than ever to build collaborative spaces where we can grow professionally. Educators from around the world can share, learn, and co-construct knowledge  together in online spaces.

This is the third post in a series that is looking at what community leaders need to know to design and lead online learning spaces. In this piece we will look at purpose and design strategies that when implemented correctly produce successful, sustainable communities of practice.

Community Purpose
The most important element of a community, one that builds a sense of belonging and trust, is purpose. Purpose lays the path for where the community will journey together. A purpose statement should describe why the community exists. It should be short and appeal to both the hearts and minds of community members. The purpose statement should also encourage ownership within the community. Because your community will evolve, your purpose will change over time. Consideration should be given to framing your purpose statement in a way that allows for shift.

Questions to answer that will help you think about your evolving purpose include:

  • What type of community am I building?
  • Why am I building it?
  • Who am I building it for?

Will your community be for students? Educational leaders? Will you use it for knowledge creation, reflection, or knowledge management? Will it be an activity based community, such as a place to create curriculum? You also need to establish a few goals. For example, when we were thinking about the sort of community that would support teachers as a professional learning community, one of our goals was to create a space where we had the ability to reflect deeply and ask hard questions.

Amy Jo Kim in her book Community Building on the Web shares Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as interesting to consider when thinking about the kinds of interaction and purpose you will pursue. Maybe your goals will include moving your members up some sort of hierarchy.

Gathering Places, Community Events and Collaboration Strategies
All communities need places and reasons to gather. Creating places in your online space such as a water cooler, bulletin boards, back channel chat area, private and public groups, message board, discussion forums, and voice, video or text based real time chat spaces allows for community members to have a variety of ways to interact. Equally important are the types of events and collaboration strategies you develop to encourage interaction. Events are a gathering of members designed to accomplish goals, including information exchange, collaboration, networking, interaction and more.  Having live events such as guest speakers or a chance for members to compete or share information creates a sense of community and fun. For example, Powerful Learning Practice offers a Pecha Kucha night for its members to have a friendly smackdown. There are also opportunities for teachers from around the world to come and share ways they are integrating technology into their lesson plans or learn new things such as how to use video to tell a story.

Interviewing members and then sharing the interviews through video, newsletters, or podcasts are  semi-structured ways to help members find each other. A notice board is a place where thoughts, ideas and questions are shared. These items are quick and to-the-point snips that would be too shallow to require a full threaded discussion. Hot Seats are a catchy way to allow community members the opportunity to ask the person in the hot seat (usually an expert in their field) questions, to which they can respond over a set period of time.

Once you create the spaces and events for members, make sure you have ways for them to find out about what is happening where and when. Posting information on a message board or even using a community Twitter account to share the news is a great way to spread the word.

What other events and activities have you experienced in the community spaces where you gather? Please reply below with other ideas for creating community and excitement in your learning spaces.

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