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Goal: Foster Academic Community

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on November 5, 2007 at 9:56:08 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.


But there's an even more pernicious effect. Even were we to build a campus-wide academic community that included all students and faculty and staff, but no one outside of the college, we would still not have a healthy online community. Net-enabled communities are strong because unlike walled gardens they allow a single identity to belong to multiple groups, and it is the multiplicity of weak membership ties that keep communities strong, vibrant, and engaged with new ideas and perspectives.


In other words, there is no such thing as a healthy online community that does not allow some level of connection to non-members. Those connections might be weaker than internal connections, and they may be more selective, but they must be possible.



Suggested Approach:


We must make available options for public academic discourse, preferably allowing multiple levels of access. We need not force discussions out from behind classroom doors where professors feel it would not be fruitful, but for those willing to experiment with public engagement with ideas we must provide suitable spaces for campus-wide, community-engaged discourse.



Also see:


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

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