Building an online education community requires patience and perseverance. Educators are busy people whose primary focus is to create educational opportunities for their students. Learning to incorporate online learning opportunities and developing online mentor and coaching relationships is still, in 2007, not the norm for many educators. |
Changing practice is a slow process. There needs to be an authentic reason to develop the online community habit. Participants need to feel ownership and a shared commitment of the process and a comfort level with the tools in a way that allows them to experiment and explore at their own pace and within their own comfort zone. Most of all the participants need to clearly see the benefit that an online community can bring to themselves and their students
The power of building online education communities is tremendous. Education has, in the past, been an isolated activity with each teacher alone in his/her classroom with his/her students. In some cases teachers teaching the same subject or grade level in a school may not know what the other teacher is teaching. The Internet enables educators to work with educators all over the world for the joint goal of improving education for all students. Islands of innovation become connected, and the beneficiaries are the students. This knowledge-sharing and opportunity for ongoing collaboration is exciting because educators now have almost instant access to other educators and to best practices. It is, however, intimidating for people who are not comfortable with using technology this way. Consequently it is critical to develop a safe online community in which everyone feels welcomed and supported.
Howard Rheingold likens creating an online community to hosting a party. You invite an interesting mix of people, greet people at the door, make introductions, start conversations, avert fisticuffs, encourage people to let their hair down and entertain each other. (Rheingold, 1998). The host sets and enforces the rules, models the correct online behavior and nurtures the online community. Rheingold also states that you can’t manufacture an online community. Instead you design the conditions that allow the community to emerge and grow by using the right tools and growing conditions. This includes making technology easy and relatively glitch free to use.
When hosting a community it is import to be patient, kind, and supportive. You need to build a climate of trust through fairness and by getting to know the people in your online community in much the same way you get to know people in a face to face community. You need to monitor participation, and find ways to help the reluctant participate. Know that some participants will be lurkers, and that is okay. You need to encourage and nurture lurkers to participate as appropriate.
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