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The International Online Workshop 
"Online Communities" - Notes
by Carmen Holotescu and Jane Knight

The first online workshop organized together by e-Learning Centre UK and Timsoft Romania ran 2-8 December 2001,  the moderators being Jane Knight, founder e-Learning Centre UK and Carmen Holotescu, Director Timsoft.

The workshop topic was "Online Communities". The virtual environment is a variant of eLearnTS developed by Timsoft, offering all the facilities needed for a successful workshop.

Almost 60 participants shared valuable experience and ideas - participants were from Romania, UK, USA, Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, Brasil, India, Chile, Sweden, Finland, Portugal,  Mauritius, Vietnam, New Zeeland.

Among them, we mention: Stephen Downes - eLearning Expert, Canada, Stephen's Web, Mihai Jalobeanu - Chairman RILW, Romania, Nic Nistor - Munich University, Germany, Donna Meyer - Director of Information Services, Northcentral University USA, Claude Whitmyer - Researcher FutureU, USA,  Diana Quinn - Professional Development, Australia, Sixten Sandstrom - Training & Documentation Coordinator Nokia, Finlanda.

Please find below:

  All who are interested in participating in such workshops, please join us: see e-Learning Community Page.
Objectives and Time Table
To identify and to discuss the following topics related to "Online Communities":
  • the definition of an Online Community
  • the types of Online Communities: learning, practice, business, hobby, etc.
  • the characteristics of a successful community
  • the role of the moderators
  • how to maintain and increase the members motivation
  • the role of metaphors
  • the facilities of virtual environments.
  • Papers published at Materials
  • Other Online Resources provided at Links
Time Table
  • The following Conferences will be permanently open:
    • Let's get to know one another!
    • Coffee House
    • Technical Aspects
  • Conferences for 2-4 December:
    • Conference: "On Online Communities"
    • Real-Time Conference ( Chat, 1hour ) - for socializing - Tuesday, 4 Dec, 5 pm CET
  • Conference for 5-6 December:
    • Conference: "Online Communities in Online Courses"
  • Conferences for 7-8 December:
    • Conference: "Online Communities of Practice"
    • Conference: "Evaluation of the workshop"
    • Conference: "Farewell"
  • Conference till the next Online Workshop:
    • Conference: "Keep in touch"

On Online Communities

Bring the benefits of Online Communities in your real life

"Many are the conditions which must be fulfilled if the Great Society is to become a Great Community .... The highest and most difficult kind of inquiry and a subtle, delicate, vivid and responsive art of communication must take possession of the physical machinery of transmission and circulation and breath life into it. When the machine age has thus perfected its machinery, it will be a means of life and not its despotic master." -- John Dewey (1938)

The definition of "online community" is always changing, and very subjective. The goals of an online community could be business, learning, practice, hobby, but every online community is about building relationships, about learning together, about collaborating, about listening to the others.

To exist, an online community needs:

  • clearly stated purposes, a set of guiding principles 
  • subtle,  experienced, enthusiastic moderators 
  • motivated, interested members 
  • metaphors for linking the participants 
  • good virtual environment 
A lot of talk can be made on the aspect that the community is formed by virtual personalities.

Are these better than the real ones or only parts of them?

Can we become someone else in virtual space?

People's online voice changes over time as they gain confidence and shed some inhibitions.  And the gaining of confidence is of course determined by the stages of “Membership Life Cycle”: Visitor, Novice, Regular, Leader, Elder - Amy Jo Kim : "Community building on the Web". 

Also all the events, sharing, actions of the community, but also the technical environment determine the developing of unique, persistent and evolving profiles for members and a climate of trust and reciprocity.

The moderator, who in most cases knows something about everybody ( the information provided for becoming a member ) must have the ability to encourage, to ask, to challenge each of them - and this is an art.

What motivated, interested members mean. Maybe the motivation has a few degrees: first the motivation determines someone to enter in a community - the goals of the site seems to interest him - and then the motivation makes him to stay there - indeed he finds useful things for his real life, what makes him to come back time and time again. We all are definitely pressed for time. We rarely have time to surf. So for to come, to be in a community, you want to find valuable and relevant information.

But on Web there are a lot of communities with the same goals; what makes a particular one to be preferred and not another? 

A successful community that preserves the motivation and interest of his members is one where the host plans thoroughly, provides enthusiasm, gives the same attention, feedback, encouragement to all,  where you clarify or learn new things sharing with the others, where you feel that your opinions are important, a community that has events, history.

By posting messages, or sharing new resources, or revealing new facets, topics, a member shows his motivation and interest - and all little contributions are important for the community to step forward.

It's so important to have a good virtual environment, with an interface easy to use; if the technology and rudimentary steps for access are transparent, the users will better see the value that the community offers. 

Being part of an online community you learn to discover new things, to know others, to collaborate and to understand them, but also you discover a New you, a Better You. You become part of the world .

What do you think?
Do you feel the need of being part of learning and  practice communities?
Which communities do you know and appreciate and why?
Do you think you gain by sharing with others?
What means for you a successful community?
How are built the virtual identities ?
Are the metaphors important?
What a virtual environment should offer?
Waiting for your valuable contributions,


Building Learning Communities in Online Learning

All of us have experience as facilitators, instructional designers of online courses, as designers, developers of virtual environments, or as researchers and psychologists in learning.

The subject we propose you refers to the best practices of building learning communities.

Here are quoted from Stephen Downes's "Building a Learning Community" Presentation at Trinity College, University of Melbourne, the eight main attributes of a successful learning communities:

                   1.Focus on learning materials 
                   2.Creation of a sense of whole 
                   3.Integrate content and communication 
                   4.Appreciate participant-generated content 
                   5.On-going communication between members 
                   6.Access to multiple resources and information 
                   7.Educational orientation 
                   8.Sense of history.

Only a few starting points for discussions:
How a teacher can be trained to succeed in building such a community?
How do you start the course?
Learning in a community means better learning? Why?
Are the students better prepared for their careers this way?
Is important to learn to collaborate?
How do you learn your students this?
How do you select your resources?
Are socializing conferences important?
Is technology a barrier?
Can you present a specific, successful course of yours?

Inviting all of you to share your experience,
Carmen and Jane


Communities of Practice


Our third conference this week is about Communities of Practice (CoPs). I would like to start by including some thoughts from an article about CoPs and then posing some questions for discussion over the next couple of days in the postings underneath. 

The thoughts are taken from “Learning in Communitie”s by Etienne Wenger and William Snyder in LineZine, Summer 2000 – http://www.linezine.com/1/features/ewwslc.htm 

“To be a successful high performance organisation in the new economy, your enterprise will not only need to embrace the vision of the learning organisation; you will want to create and grow learning communities. 

“Most organisations fall short when they try to reinvent themselves as learning organisations. The typical approach to workplace learning often merely reflects traditional school models … it fails to recognise one of the most natural of all learning processes, learning through interactions and relationships in networks with others who are experiencing and working on the same challenges and tasks. 

“Many organisations are pursuing community-based learning as a complement to the more traditional approaches of “knowledge transfer” 

“Communities of practice are groups of people who share expertise and passion about a topic and interact on an ongoing basis to further their learning in this domain … we observe a number of trends 

· “Communities are becoming more formally recognised and supported by their organisations … 

· “Communities have become the cornerstone for knowledge strategies in a growing number of organisations … 

· “Communities are also expanding beyond the traditional organisational boundaries to include vendors, partners and customers … 

“E-commerce both generates and is influenced by learning communities … 

“Communities of practice are valuable to learning organisations because they represent a completely new layer of organisational structure previously addressed by business units … They differ from traditional structures in several respects: 

· “You foster communities of practice: you don’t create them …
· “You depend on members’ passion for the topic that brings the community together …
· “You count on internal leaders and community organisers …
· “You must learn to leverage the strategic role of communities in the knowledge economy … 

“The best way to develop community-leadership expertise is to practice what the theory teaches and participate in communities about communities of practice.”

How do you think Communities of Practice differ from communities of interest?
A CoP needs a clear sense of purpose – how do you think that should be defined?
When implementing a CoP what are the key roles that have to be established to “manage” the CoP - 
and what are the necessary skills that the people who take on these roles will need to have?
I have modified this question a bit - I quote "Communities exist in time and they need a rhythm of events and rituals that 
reasserts their existence over time ... these ... help define the community, 
remind people of their common values, their common practices and wht their community is about."
What do you think these "events" and "rituals" might look like?



Copyright © 2002 by Carmen Holotescu and Jane Knight. 
All rights reserved.

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