I've been taking an online course through REMC called Blended Learning in the Classroom. As a part of the required work are a number of reflections and such. I've not been blogging much lately, so I figured I'd share some of these reflections.
The Prompt: Share at least one reason why creating a collaborative community within the online portion of your learning environment is important.
I may get in trouble here, but I'm going to say that creating a collaborative community within the online portion of my learning environment is not important. In the past I would have agreed that an online community was important, but in going through the beginnings of this module I found my feelings changing. This is due partly to the readings and partly to reflection on my past experiences.
Building an online community of practice has been one of the things I have been struggling with since reading Brown & Adler (2008) 5-6 years ago. The best experience I ever had with this was years ago when I used Ning to create a social network for my physics classes. This was only a partial success at best. Only a small number of students, three out of 90, really joined the community. Those students truly got a lot out of our Ning. My other students would go in only to make the required posts and responses. The next year I had only one student who tried to engage in a meaningful collaborative community online.
While I don't believe there has to be an online collaborative community in a blended class I do believe every course should include a collaborative community. As pointed out by Misanchuk & Anderson (2014) both Vygotsky and Moore and Kearsley highlight to the importance of collaboration between students. Vygotsky contends, "All higher-order functions originate as the relationships among individuals.” While Moore and Kearsley contend that learner to learner interactions are just as important as learner to content or learner to instructor interactions.
There is no real reason why, in a blended environment, that a collaborative community could not be built in the face to face portion of the course rather than the online portion. It is important to create a strong community that fosters collaboration. If this can already be done within the four walls of the classroom why do we need to force it into the online portion of the class?
I think part of the problem I've had in the past relates to the fact that all of my students see each other every day at school. The online community has always been extra. Virtually all of the community building I would like to see happen online is already happening in the face to face portion of my classes, making the online portion a bit superfluous.
There may still be some benefits to shifting community to an online environment, however. It would allow all discussions to be archived, shy students may feel more free to speak up, and all students would be able to have a voice. However, when techniques like Modeling Discourse Management (Desbien, 2002) are employed many of these concerns can be addressed in the traditional classroom removing the need for an online community.
Brown, John Seely, & Richard P. Adler. (2008). “Minds of Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0.” EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 43, no. 1 (January/February 2008): 16–32 retrieved from: http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERM0811.pdf
Desbien, Dawin. (2002). Retrieved from article.pdf
Misanchuk, Melanie, and Tiffany Anderson. (2014). "Building community in an online learning environment: communication, cooperation and collaboration." Abstract. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2014. Article.pdf