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Is it easier to build community among strangers or neighbors?
by Shannon Mersand - Friday, October 18, 2013, 9:53 PM
 

Think back to last module and our readings about building community. Based on what we have learned about community in online learning, as well as your personal experiences, is it easier to build community online with a group of individuals who already know each other, or with a group of complete strangers? Why? What do you think makes this the case? What are the benefits and drawbacks to each type of group? Please support your opinion with evidence from the readings as well as your own personal experience.

Gorski, P. C. (2005). Multicultural Education and the Internet Multicultural Activities. Multicultural Education and the Internet. Retrieved October 06, 2013, from http://www.mhhe.com/socscience/education/multi_new/activities.html

Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (1999). Defining and Redefining Community. In Building learning communities in cyberspace: Effective strategies for the online classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. (https://www2.uwstout.edu/content/profdev/elearning/e-reserves/communities_cyberspace/Building%20Learning%20Communities%20in%20Cyberspace%20Chapter%202.pdf)

Thornburg, D. D., PhD. (2001, June). Campfires in Cyberspace: Primordial Metaphors for Learning in the 21st Century. Ed at a Distance. Retrieved October 06, 2013, from http://www.usdla.org/html/journal/JUN01_Issue/article01.html

 
Picture of Margret Petrie
Re: Is it easier to build community among strangers or neighbors?
by Margret Petrie - Tuesday, October 22, 2013, 10:18 AM
 

HI Shannon,

Great question.  It really got me thinking about this.  I remember my first class at Stout and I didn't know a soul.  There were people in my class who knew each other from previous classes and during the semester I went back and forth from feeling like I was the the only new kid in the class, to being grateful there were others there to answer questions and pave the way.

There are both advantages and challenges in building community with strangers vs. neighbors, but I personally think it’s easier to have a mix of both in one group.  I think it’s important to make the distinction whether the members know each other from previous online communities or if they have personal face-to-face relationships.  People who have f2f relationships and THEN join an online group have a sense of history and context about their peers and can imagine nonverbal cues taking place when reading discussion posts.  This can be an advantage and can lessen misunderstandings.

In my online classes here at Stout, it seems there are always several students in any given class that have some connection to one another, mostly online, but sometimes in person. Palloff and Pratt (1999) discuss the importance of taking some basic steps in order to “foster connections among members that are stronger than those in face-to-face groups” (p. 24).  If the majority of the group is complete strangers to each other, they can establish norms based on the current class and not because it’s the way they did it in the last class.   However, it helps when a few people have interacted with each other previously and are comfortable with each other. These people can help lay a framework based on past experience to define and establish ground rules, norms and roles within a learning community.  Even if the group members have previous relationships, making sure to define netiquette policies at the beginning of class is important because the context of each class is different and should be accounted for.

An advantage to being strangers (and a drawback of being neighbors) is that you can recreate your own identify.  It’s sometimes hard to convince others that your views have changed, and to alter their preconceived notions of your identity.  Thornburg (2001) talks about the modern day watering hole at a professional conference and how participants share ideas with one another outside of the conference rooms.  Complete strangers have an advantage in that they can think outside their everyday professional “box” and be open to new ideas.  Also, participants who are usually labeled as extreme introverts or extroverts have a chance at being heard, instead of just being labeled and dismissed as, “that woman who can’t keep her mouth shut” or “that man who never talks.” Opening yourself up in this way can help build confidence in individuals and strengthen a learning community.

Margret

Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (1999). Defining and Redefining Community. In Building learning communities in cyberspace: Effective strategies for the online classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. (https://www2.uwstout.edu/content/profdev/elearning/e-reserves/communities_cyberspace/Building%20Learning%20Communities%20in%20Cyberspace%20Chapter%202.pdf)

Thornburg, D. D., PhD. (2001, June). Campfires in Cyberspace: Primordial Metaphors for Learning in the 21st Century. Ed at a Distance. Retrieved October 06, 2013, from http://www.usdla.org/html/journal/JUN01_Issue/article01.html

Picture of Shannon Mersand
Re: Is it easier to build community among strangers or neighbors?
by Shannon Mersand - Tuesday, October 22, 2013, 7:19 PM
 

Margret,

A great response!

"I went back and forth from feeling like I was the the only new kid in the class, to being grateful there were others there to answer questions and pave the way." I have definitely felt this way myself, most often in a class when the other participants have a connection outside of the classroom, for instance, when people work together in the same school and take online PD courses together. As both a participant, and a facilitator, I found this didactic frustrating.

 

When you state "People who have f2f relationships and THEN join an online group have a sense of history and context about their peers and can imagine nonverbal cues taking place when reading discussion posts.  This can be an advantage and can lessen misunderstandings." This is definitely a benefit. Can you think of another drawback to individuals knowing each other before they go online? Can you think of a way this can hinder discussions and learning?

Shannon, Wassaic, NY

My Best Friend Emma
Re: Is it easier to build community among strangers or neighbors?
by Bethany Thiede Wray - Tuesday, October 22, 2013, 11:50 PM
 

Hello Shannon -

I pondered your response, but my initial thought about the drawback of knowing others in a course or group before going online, is that perhaps we have preconcieved ideas about how they will respond. For example, I think of a friend of mine who teaches first grade and has described the culture and attitude of some of her teammates. They are rather closed to new ideas, sharing of information, or even cultivating community. I wonder if being online would help or hinder this type of behavior? It might be more difficult because of the need for the group to work together to progress and other outside or new members who would not tolerate this.

Needless to say this friend has found learning a new math curriculum and being involved with training staff how to use it, to help the "know-it-all", "isolators", come around and particpate more as a team. If participants close down online or in person, it has an extremely negative affect on the learning community as a whole. It seems it would be more difficult to do this online since expectations are in place for the group and particpants to respond.

What examples do you have that might show how students or staff have worked together well in a community or if they have not, how they have over come it?

Bethany - West Bend, WI

Picture of Shannon Mersand
Re: Is it easier to build community among strangers or neighbors?
by Shannon Mersand - Wednesday, October 23, 2013, 8:06 PM
 

Bethany,

I have been a participant in online courses where the other students knew each other well, and they never read or responded to my posts. I HOPE it wasn't because my posts weren't valuable, but because they knew each other, and responded to those they knew instead. I have also lead courses where this happened, participants who knew each other responded amongst themselves, those that didn't get left out of the loop. I have also worked with high school students who knew each other before hand (I've never had the pelasure of working with high school students who didn't know each other) and their clear like or dislike of each other showed through in the discussions. Those who did not get along had a tendency to disagree with each other just because they didn't like each other, even if thier initial posts were in agreement. I have also seen cases where a group of friends teamed up on a classmate whose views they didn't like. Obviously, I stepped in to both types of situations when warrented, but I think that it was harmful to the online community that the "battle lines" were so clearly drawn before they got to really know each other intellectually. In those course, by the end of the course the student found a new sense of respect for each other in many regards, but it was not an easy task. At the time I taught both high school courses, I had not considered the idea of helping them build community. Were I in a similar situation again, I would make changes to the opening activities of the courses.

In my Stout courses (this is my second), I have NEVER felt isolated or alone, and have actually felt much more connected to my classmates than I did when I took an online Masters program at SUNY Albany, where I could have met my classmates face to face. I think this is because in none of those courses were there every community building activities, while so far in both Stout courses, there have been. Perhaps it is because online learning was still emerging when I completed the Masters Program, or perhaps it was because the instructors of that program didn't understand what helps to support successful online learning. I'd love to be a fly on the wall in that program again to see if anything has changed!

Shannon, Wassaic, NY

My Best Friend Emma
Re: Is it easier to build community among strangers or neighbors?
by Bethany Thiede Wray - Tuesday, October 22, 2013, 11:33 PM
 

Shannon,

This is a very well thought out and thorough question. I have had to read through some of the other questions, and responses to get a jist of all that this new CMS/LMS (course management system, learning management system - Moodle.org) is about. Well, my personal opinion would be that, it is easier to build community online when I do not have prior knowledge of the group, and or experiences with the group. It is a fresh, new, unfiltered community that hopefullly is open to the excitement of new members, new perspectives, new ideas, and new experiences. I like learning with new people, I like meeting new people, I like talking to people I have never seen or known and imagine who they are, where they are from, but most importantly, related to this quesition and course, what wonderful teaching experiences they can share with me and I can then in  turn use with my classes and students. I am going to continue my response on Wed. with support from the very nicely provided articles, because I will be more thorough.

I do hope that is acceptable? Thank you.

I am wondering if others find this new style of learning and teaching with having students site their sources, and give indepth support to their responses, at all challenging? What methods do you help your students incorporate this approach into learning and in a community, into your class?

Bethany - West Bend, WI

Picture of Shannon Mersand
Re: Is it easier to build community among strangers or neighbors?
by Shannon Mersand - Wednesday, October 23, 2013, 7:52 PM
 

Bethany,

Of course that is acceptable!

I am certain that individuals who are unaccustomed to online learning do find the practice of citing thier sources and giving in depth support more difficult. The nature of online learning is that we are not watching over students' shoulders, so the only way to hold them accountable for reading the "lecture materials" is to require them to provide support for thier answers using the sources. Further, in the US, most of the states have adopted the Common Core Standards, which require that students be able to do activities like this, read challenging materials, synthesize the information, and provide support for thier answers. These are skills that were identified as pretty lacking in most high school graduates, and so they became a target of the new standards. For example, the anchor writing standard 1 is: "Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence." If you have never seen the Common Core, you can look at it here: http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy.

My personal belief is that these standards are important for success in both college and careers, and I think the standards are great. The problem with implimentation has been that states jumped on quickly, and required the new standards in every grade, without allowing time for students to "catch up" so to speak. Now, students who have not had much education in these tasks are expected to have mastered them in a year, and it just isn't realistic!

But I digress considerably from the topic!

For my students, as a School Media Specialist it is my job to support the teachers in teaching these skills to students. I do this by "pushing in" to the classroom when they do research projects, large and small, and teach them skills like note taking, paraphrasing, searching for information, forming arguments, connecting facts and information together in a variety of report formats (presentations, papers, videos, etc). You can always start small by providing short readings with fact based questions, and then moving on to more complex questions that require processing and thought. One technique is to use DBQs (Document Based Questions) that provide very short passages from which they need to draw their information. In the past, we have also asked students to develop thier own DBQs where they choose the sources and come up with the questions.

Shannon, Wassaic, NY

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