Sunday, May 24, 2009

teaching and meaningful connections with people - online communities Part II

I did a 4 month Zen Shiatsu course at the Australian Shiatsu College in Melbourne last year.

Why ? 
Well it was something I was kind of interested in for a long time. It was not a burning interest but a backburner kind of thing, one of those things to do "some day"

The reason I joined and paid tuition was simple: I liked the community of the college. I felt that I was a part of it, it was friendly, small and caring. 
That was the key of it for me. 

I would never have gone and enrolled in a large University and studied Shiatsu, not even out of interest. I work in a large bureaucratic University, I didn't want rush in after work, to sit in a lecture hall, do assignments, listen to some lecturer like myself rant and rave. No thanks. Most likely the other students would probably rush in, listen, rush out. All rather impersonal.

What was the course I did actually like ?
- It was after work, Monday night after work 3 hours. - OMG !.
- Yet I looked forward to it.
Why ?
- Small classes.
- Interested students.
- Teacher demonstrated on one us for 20 mins, then we practices on each other.

Ok there is some bias: the subject was practical and I received a massage from a fellow student every week. But it was more than that. It was the sense of belonging and the sense of caring and community that persuaded me to enroll in the first place.

NOTE: This follows on from the previous post online-teaching-growing-communities
Today (May 2009) I spoke with another student from the same college. She too is there, full time, because she likes the sense of community, the small personal size and the caring atmosphere. Yes she is interested in the subject matter she is studying, but the deciding factor was the personal nature of the place.
It seems to me that if online teaching can help to engender this personal community then it is a good thing. If online teaching technology is only a tool to dole out more information, and reach more people in an impersonal way, then it has only reached a small fraction of what it could be.

Of course if students have little choice and are FORCED to take certain courses, then even if the teaching and learning environment is not as good as at the college I went to last year, they will have just HAVE to do it and cope with it.
I hope that word of mouth will help those educational institutions which do a good job...
And I hope there is enough choice for students for that to make a difference :-)
There is another article in the back of my mind about how sheer size alone makes things impersonal bureaucratic and heartless. 
E.F. Schumacher talked about this in his classic "Small is beautiful". 
These days we can sometimes combine the small personal on a larger scale: Facebook is an example of a system that although big, does connect people at the personal level. But it does so by respecting the personal. Every user connects to people he knows in some way. There is a limit. I don't want to have total strangers talk to me all the time, because my time, my life, and I am limited.
And of course there is the issue of Online Community Governance - with fair and good governance a community is more likely to thrive.
What does this mean for teaching ? 
Simple: keep it personal. 
Other than that, I hand it over to the endlessly debating academics (I'm one of them, I should know :-)

Teaching and meaningful connections with people. 
More thoughts about online communities
This follows on from the previous post online-teaching-growing-communities

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

online teaching - growing communities -

My experiences of online communities
Returning from Overseas after many years abroad I found first hand that all my friends were busy with family kids. Most of them had  moved on in life, our thoughts and ideas had changed a lot and I was no longer the same person. 

Only once I accepted the internet as a "like interest finding tool" did I find a connection to the rest of Australian society again. 

For me: social life and get-togethers along lines of interest happen primarily via the internet.
I use the internet to find language practice groups, social groups, etc... 

A friend to whom I sent a link about a travel blog sent me this reply: (it shows how the net brings together people of similar interest)

Hi Hyko,
 ......Thanks for that website :)
It's amazing to know there are other girls who share the same aspiration.
How about your story :)?


I also us the Net to run my own interest groups, earn some pocket money etc...
The safe remoteness and yet the meeting point on a common interest is great.
Couchsurfing is a site I like especially, I feel more at home there and it gives me hope to know others who feel similar to me are 'out there' doing this kind of thing - my profile is here

Online communities to me mean I don't have to earbash my physically close friends, I can find people who relate to my interest on the internet. This blog is one way to get my ideas out there, instead of telling my co-workers I share them with you ! :-) 

I publish stories and ideas on various blog sites. I have a story site, and site for metaphysical musings, another for travel and a static old fashioned home-site that is the hub of it all.
And there is one other aspects to online communities: you can become part of a community ! 
Yes, you can feel part of a community just like you can be a part of a group of people in your neighbourhood. 
There are people on the net, I have never met in person, but I follow their exploits and tune in, and they feel like old friends. One such site is:
There are others who I talk to occasionally but again, will probably never ever meet in person. 
And there is yet another aspect to online communities: 
They are a way to get things "out". 
For me it is something I want to, or need to do. 
I miss not being able to write my ideas and thoughts down and share them with the world. 
This will not appeal to everyone but it is something I and I'd imagine most bloggers have in common: this need to share, talk, get it 'out'.

Long before blogging became 'blogging' I would write my ideas, make books to be published one of these centuries, or keep up a very lively correspondence with many people.
So I think it is a certain 'writer or author' personality type who likes to share, and write.
Blogging is just the modern version of something that has always been there. Samuel Johnson, G. K. Chesterton, Aldous Huxley and thousands more wrote streams of essays and articles - in today's world, I've no doubt they would be blogging as well.

Not every person likes to blog and write. Only a certain group do. This is important to keep in mind when you set up online learning and teaching communities.

Some students will love it, others simply don't want to do it. Those are simply natural differences, not everyone is an athlete and everyone is a natural scholar.
What does it mean for online learning though ?

How to do you get the best kind of online teaching ?

At its worst, online teaching is just a do-it-yourself guide, a manual that is doled out in small expen$ive chunks.
At its best online teaching is a living community of active people that has a life of its own. It is fun to belong and motivates people to contribute.

There is no sure-fire recipe, but there are a few commonsense foundations - details below.

Once I sat down to list them, I realized they are all put much better in the links below. So the rest of this article is more of a list of useful links about online communities.

Good governance: 

Set up a fair and good government for online communities. The article by Joel Spolsky gives a good introduction:  Building Communities with Software by Joel Spolsky  -

I think this quote from Joel's site sums it up very well:
 So, we have discovered the primary axiom of online communities:
Small software implementation details result in big differences in the way the community develops, behaves, and feels.
The theme of good government, fair government is also debated at:

A  review of the above articles:

The article below is a classic and talks about the early days of online communities. We have progressed (???) since then.

Who is the community for ?

Be aware of the age and lifestyle of your target community. Busy parents, with kids, will not react the same way as teenager, who will not respond the same way as single
University students.

"demographics" is the key word: single people, will use the Internet and online tools totally differently from those who have children, a full time busy job.

Not everything can be engineered.

And of course, there is that final mysterious element which you simply can't force, can't bottle and can't define. Just as you might have two restaurants that look the same right next to each other, for some reason one is always full and the other is always empty.

However: if you do the above commnsense things and you do it with joy, chances are you will get a thriving online community in which people learn.

The links below are useful for anyone wanting to grow an online learning community:  - you might not agree with it all, but they raises some good points.

BBC article about the business of online communities 

Various links that are related to this post

What does a moderator do in a community ?

My favourite is still: