Community, Engagement, Audience – and the stuff between the bricks

After watching the presentation given by Dr. Richard Schwier (yes, the recording again – my night owl days are over) I was left with moments of “a-ha” and “hmmm”. Here’s my attempt to make some sense of it all.


The stuff growing between the bricks — A great analogy: Dr. Schwier talked of learning in terms of formal, non-formal, and informal – formal learning can be thought of as taking place within a fence: a structure that sets up what is inside and outside, a perimeter existing around what is learning and what is not learning in a specific context, such as a class. Non-formal (and informal?) learning can then be thought of as the stuff growing between the bricks that make up the fence: the weeds, flowers, moss that make the fence that much more interesting. They are similar and different in terms of those things that make the learning happen (catalysts); the ideas, places, and relationships around which learning is focused (emphases); and the actions and conditions that encourage or discourage the learning process (elements). My apologies to Dr. Schwier for my superficial treatment of this work – explore the research around Virtual Learning Environments.

Interaction/Engagement — The definitions of these two terms in the context of learning and education are becoming more distinct. Interacting is not necessarily engaging… but is engaging a form of interaction? In my mind there is a continuum of action here, levels of participation, of doing something. A simple example might be my review of the recorded presentation in Elluminate. My interaction included clicking the link to start the recording, taking notes on the speaker’s lecture…but then something in the chat caught my attention (a related conversation on the importance of trust among participants in these environments) and I was off exploring URLs that were presented in the chat, reading other students’ blog posts about this issue. As I read I began to relate all of this to my own past experience in online courses and in deciding how much information I wanted to include about myself in online profiles, accounts, etc.  That to me is engagement.


“Does the audience matter” … in your online social networks and interaction? — I am inclined to say that the audience does matter. When I post to my blog, tweet, or send an old fashioned email, I am very likely to edit and censor. It’s all representative of me, personally and professionally, and public. Since I am making the choice to put myself out there in these ways, every post is a choice I make about how I will be perceived. (Whether or not these things are read is another issue.) I am creating an online identity. Dr. Schwier’s work involves the importance of trustworthiness, empathy, forgiveness, intimacy… in online learning communities. Trusting a large group of people that you haven’t met, with information about yourself and your thoughts can be daunting – especially for someone who is more inclined to be introverted or private. I’ve been watching a couple of exchanges on Twitter this week about whether or not to use a real name or create a “handle” of some sort. You have to make choices about privacy and transparency – what is suitable for work, home, friends, school….what is suitable for public consumption. Is it possible to be carefully adventurous? I think that is how I would describe my own efforts over the last couple of years.

Two related items found recently on Twitter:

“Community is a tired but useful metaphor” — I admit to never having liked the word community in the context of learning and education. Perhaps it just seemed too formal, too structured, too limiting, requiring too much effort to be a member…hmmm…requires membership. In Hawaii the word of choice might be hui meaning “club, association, firm; to join, unite, introduce, meet; a plus sign +”. There must be other ways to express a group of people gathered together to learn about something they are all interested in – without crossing the line into what might be too personal, too intimate. Tribe? Team?…

Other stuff to pass along…

Dunbar’s number – Applying this to online communities, online courses, social networking.

MOOC – Massive online open course There are more!

CIDER – Canadian Institute of Distance Education Research

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