Building Trust in Online Communities


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I have been doing a lot of thinking of late around building communities of practice. Although there has been a lot of discussion around purpose and intent of the community, the question that I have been wondering is how we build trust in a purely online environment so that people are willing to participate. My own experience of a community of practice with Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century started with a face-to-face session, however not every community of practice is afforded such luxury. This led me to reflect upon my involvement with various cMOOCs over the years and consider how each set out to create an environment which fosters sharing and collaboration. So here are my thoughts and reflections:

Rhizo Learning

I am not sure how to explain #Rhizo14, #Rhizo15 or Rhizo anything. I guess it could be considered as a radical attempt to facilitate a course where the community is the curriculum and being the expert is not necessarily the goal. Although each of the iterations has been facilitated by Dave Cormier, he always seems to make every attempt possible to get out of the way. Other than a weekly provocation and Hangout, there were very few explicit formalities. This worked (and failed?) in part because of the strength of the community. I cannot actually recall any explicit trust building activities and I must admit that it got a little unwieldy at times, which I imagine might have put some off.

#CCourses

Connected Courses was a collaborative community designed to develop networked learning in higher education. Each fortnight had a different focus, supported by a team of facilitate, as well as a range of makes, videos and resources. In the lead up, Howard Rheingold, Alan Levine and Jim Groom supported people in organising a space and connecting it to the syndicated blogs. This was done via social media, as well as through a Hangout. Beyond the act of getting going, the first unit involved responding to the provocation #WhyITeach.

#CLMooc

Connected Learning MOOC is a yearly event designed to help people make sense of learning online through the act of making. In the first week of making, participants are invited to introduce themselves however they like, connect with other learners by commenting and reflect on the connections made. To support this creative process, a range of possibilities are listed in a ‘Make Bank’. Beyond the usual weekly challenges, there also daily connectors which allow people to maintain a sense of connection, even if they may have dropped out of the weekly tasks.

#DigiWriMo

Digital Writing Month is an annual 30-day challenge that has been occurring since 2012. Similar to CLMOOC, it encourages people to be creative by providing a number tasks and challenges. This includes a mixture of daily activities and on-going projects. Each year is facilitated by a different team, adding a different twist. In regards to introductions, the 2015 iteration started with an invitation to create an alternative CV (#altcv).

#walkmyworld

Walk My World is an annual social media project in which people are encouraged to share and connect around a hashtag. The intent is to explore open research and open publishing. The weekly assignments are designed to help tell your story. In 2016, the first challenge involved sharing a selfie and reflecting on the story behind it.


What seems to stand out is the sharing of something personal. In order to make this more possible for people to participate, these activities often emphasis choice and creativity in a lighthearted manner.

What about you though? What experiences have you been a part of? Do you have any thoughts, ideas and experiences? As always, comments welcome.


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REVIEW: The Connected Educator

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The Connected Educator, by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall, provides a thorough introduction to becoming more connected. Through a mixture of anecdotes, elaborations and questions, the authors invite those wishing to adapt their practice for a participatory culture made possible by Web 2.0. Although technology plays its part throughout, this book is about the educator as learner first and in the process taking control of their own professional development.

At the heart of this change are three layers integral to the connected learning communities:

Although it can be easy to treat these layers in isolation, the reality is that each influences the other in their own way. For example, deep inquiry fostered within a community of practice is often fed by the breadth of sources and connections derived from the personalised learning network, while professional learning communities often add context and purpose to the process.

A different way of appreciating these connections and  communities is that each support the construction of knowledge. As Nussbaum-Beach and Ritter Hall explain,

Connected learning allows the learner to construct knowledge through passive (knowledge for), active (knowledge in), and reflective (knowledge of) strategies.

This is a significant change from the consumption of knowledge perpetuated through the implementation of off-the-shelf instruction models and pre-conceived curriculum.

The adjustment from top-down reform to more organic and agile learning environments brings a set of challenges, particularly in regards to leadership and the building of trust. According to Nussbaum-Beach and Ritter Hall, this comes back to the question of collegiality. Whether it be the development of relationships or a willingness to share openly, much of this is not possible without a sense of community and a belief in distributed leadership.

Having said all of this, I had a few frustrations with the book. Firstly, such a heavy focus on applications is always going to risk dating quickly. Although most of the applications discussed are still active, there were quite a few missing, such as Voxer, news aggregation and newsletters. In addition to this, there were few alternatives provided, especially in regards to open source options. The second concern I had was the lack of critical discourse around the use of various applications and the scraping of data. I am not sure if this is a consequence of being written in a pre-Snowden era or whether it simply did not fit the scope of the book.

In the end, I felt that The Connected Educator is one of those books I wished I had discovered earlier, especially in regards to my work around communities of practice. Yet in some ways I feel that although I may not have read the book until now, I had experienced its message through some sort of digital osmosis, often via other people’s support and writing.

Like Will Richardson’s Master Teacher to Master Learner and Steve Wheeler’s Learning with E’s, The Connected Educator offers a useful starting point for those wishing to take a stand for the children we serve and choose to be powerful.

DISCLOSURE: I read this book as a precursor to working with Sheryl Nausbaum-Beach. Apparently everyone has read it and therefore I felt compelled.


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