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

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