This excerpt provides a good introduction into several important factors in the development of digital cultures in education. The community aspects particularly resonate with me. I’m keen to grow the social aspect of the learning community I manage and to realise some of the potential of “learning as the social construction of knowledge”.
One element that isn’t covered in this excerpt is fragmentation of communication in online communities. In my own professional practice communities are often loose associations of individuals and are held together by numerous communication routes. A single individual may be in contact with their peers through WhatsApp groups (often several groups), by email, Facebook group(s), our learning academy’s forums, conference calls and occasional face to face encounters at meetings and other events.
This fragmentation can make any sustained engagement with a topic difficult and, just as meetings in person can disintegrate into several sub-conversations, a similar loss of focus can all too easily result in community activity losing its momentum. I think we saw some of this when students on this course were dividing their attention between
- their chosen MOOC community,
- the community we have established through Twitter
- the discussion forum on the Digital Education hub,
- their day job and social circles.
This fragmentation does run contrary to the findings of Sillence, E. and Baber, C. (2003), whose study found having more than one means of contact aided community cohesion. However, their study focused on integrating only two forms of communication and did not have the complexity of multiple community involvement.
This TED Talk by Amber Case highlights one of the issues that I believe is a contributing factor to the fragmentation of communication in digital communities.
Case introduces the idea of ‘Simultaneous time’ and puts forward the premise that we all have to cope with a ‘different type of time on every single device that we use’, such that we have to ‘dig around for our external memories’ to discover where we left them. This analogy makes absolute sense to me and is a fairly accurate description of the the sense of loss of control one can feel when trying to handle multiple communications channels simultaneously, some in real time and some asynchronously.
I believe my first experience as a Twitter user is a useful example here. Prior to joining this MSc I made little use of Twitter and I certainly didn’t recognise it as a tool that could support a learning community, primarily because my previous tweets had been very posted on something of a ‘fire and forget’ basis.
One of the first times I used Twitter ‘seriously’ was reading a paper with a number of other students in real time and tweeting our thoughts as we went along. It didn’t take long for me to become thoroughly confused as to who had made what point, when they had made it and where they were in the reading. Each of us read at different speeds and the added complications of external factors such as phone calls or a visitors arriving made the whole exercise a frustrating and, at times, humorous experience. By our next attempt we had discovered Tweetdeck and Hootsuite, both of which enable some semblance of order to be imposed on the storm of tweets that can emerge from this type of event.
As Kozinets, R. V. (2010) details, there are types of community participation what prevent the loosely associated digital communities I refer to above from disintegrating completely. The ‘minglers’ and ‘makers’ are particularly important, as they are in almost any group I can think of, as Kozinet states “online gatherings follow many of the same basic rules as groups that gather in person.”
Knox, J. (2015). Community Cultures. Excerpt from Critical Education and Digital Cultures. In Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory. M. A. Peters (ed.). DOI 10.1007/978-981-287-532-7_124-1
Sillence, E. and Baber, C. (2003). Integrated digital communities: combining web-based interaction with text messaging to develop a system for encouraging group communication and competition, Interacting with Computers
Volume 16, Issue 1, February 2004, Pages 93–113
Kozinets, R. V. (2010) Chapter 2 ‘Understanding Culture Online’, Netnography: doing ethnographic research online. London: Sage. pp. 21-40.