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Goal: Foster Academic Community

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on November 5, 2007 at 9:34:17 pm

The Goal:


"To clearly and continuously communicate our mission and values in all that we undertake, and to foster a strong sense of community on campus in pursuit of academic excellence."




While our LMS approach to education does build communities around classes and courses, we provide little outside the classroom in the way of net-enabled academic community. As a result, there is a strange disconnect between the academic life conducted in the "walled garden" of Blackboard, and the more public social life of students on such Web 2.0 offerings as Facebook and MySpace.


Why is this? Stephen Downes explains:


Probably the greatest misapplication of online community in online learning lies in the idea that a community is an adjunct to, or follows from, an online course. This is perhaps most clearly exemplified by the existence in itself of online class discussions. It is common to see the discussion community created with the first class and disbanded with the last. The community owes its existence to the course, and ends when the course does.


There are a couple of obvious problems here. The first is that the online community created by the class is lost to the community at large. By allowing these discussions to expire with the class, the campus community is deprived of the energy these discussions could bring to the campus. Under a pure LMS implementation, students are encouraged to make connections to one another within the context of a class, but no effort is made to achieve academic community on a higher level than the class.




So learning occurs in communities, but communities cannot be based on the group, but rather, the network, where connections cut across existing boundaries, via weak ties, to form layers of association. The implication is that the course content (if any) ought to be subservient to the discussion, that the community is the primary unit of learning, and that the instruction and the learning resources are secondary, arising out of, and only

because of, the community.


Unfortunately this approach also discourages cross-course and cross-disciplinary discussion. It also locks out participants outside of our campus -- and engaging with people outside your walls is crucial to to healthy community. Even more absurdly,



Wegner's communities of practice: http://www.ewenger.com/theory/



Suggested Approach:


We will build accessible, visible, and public spaces for discussion that allow academic engagement with on and off campus participants.

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