About Dr. Boettcher

Recent Activities

Home page

April 3, 2007

E-Coaching Tip 41: Stage Three of a Learning Community -- Stimulating and Comfortable Camaraderie

Alternate Tip -- Setting Up and Structuring Groups

We hope that last week's tip on "edge happenings" -- combined with the story about using live classrooms for team and course gatherings piqued your interest in what you might like to test out in your next online course.

Or perhaps you now can just nod knowledgeably when someone mentions "Moodlerooms", "Second Life, or Citizendium! (Note: The course with all the live classrooms is experimenting with a Virtual Party celebration next week. More on that at some future date!)

As the term is wrapping up, we thought it would be good to return to the theme of this spring's tips -- community and collaboration. In particular, we thought it would be timely to focus on examining the characteristics of a course community that has achieved stage three of a "stimulating and comfortable camaraderie."

Also towards the end of this tip is a link to a video-streamed presentation by Tracy Mitrano from Cornell at a recent Blackboard users group conference hosted by Duquesne in March. Dr. Mitrano shared legal, social and learning aspects about the new social networking applications that are spreading so quickly.

Three Stages of Building Community

In one of the early tips in the spring, we talked about the three stages of building a course community (Brown, 2001). Here they are again as a reminder:

  • Stage One: Making friends on-line with those students who feel comfortable communicating. (This happens in the first section of a course -- Weeks 1 to 3 of a 12-week course.)
  • Stage Two: Community conferment (acceptance). Community conferment often occurs following a " long, thoughtful, threaded discussion on a subject of importance. The discussion may have had the feeling of a shared experience and generated feelings of satisfaction and kinship with the other participants." This stage usually evolves during the "early middle" to the "late middle" of a course.
  • Stage Three: This is a stage characterized by camaraderie generally achieved after "long-term or intense association with others involving personal communication." Note: This stage may or not happen with every course. IF it happens, it usually happens in the concluding weeks of a course. In this phase, student engagement is even more intense as students are focusing, sharing and working on projects, presentations and course capstone experiences.

Strategies for Shaping and Evolving Community

The faculty behaviors for shaping and evolving to a Stage Three community are very similar to those behaviors for building community during the middle phases of a course. Those behaviors include the following. Which of these behaviors do you use and find effective? Which ones would you like some tips/examples on?

  • Taking time to be very clear about course expectations and processes
  • Posing open-ended questions about what students think and think they know
  • Making positive "substantive" observations about student's participation
  • Encouraging the identifying of relationships and linking of ideas
  • Encouraging the linking of course content to current events, problems
  • Challenging students to share questions and strategies and insights about the course content
  • Facilitating the student to student discussion

Faculty Behaviors that Support Stage 3 Community

Some of the behaviors that move a class beyond Stage 2 of mutual acceptance and effective communication to the real commitment and support of Stage 3 include variations of the following. Which of these have you tried?

  • Grappling with issues and problems together, including problems for which the answers are unknown
  • Brainstorming and challenging each other about innovative strategies and solutions
  • Communicating with learners on the intersection of interests and content areas
  • Sharing relevant experiences that support future networking and professional collaboration

If you watch your students' postings you can also see evidence of developing personal and professional relationships. Obviously one of the most lasting outcomes of learning and sharing discoveries together is the development of these longer lasting relationships. When we ask our students what their "takeaways" for a course might be, one of those might be professional friendships for the future.

"Intervening Conditions" That Can Hinder Community Development

Are we aiming so high that we set ourselves up for disappointment? Here is a reality check.

In her study on building community, Brown also identified 15 life style conditions that might hinder a group of learners from developing into a vibrant learning community. She called these "intervening conditions" and they include many of the familiar life-style and commitment issues, such as health, work, family, and logistical and technological issues. Some of the conditions that she included that might not readily come to mind include:

  • Personalities and how they manifest themselves online
  • Interaction of learner and faculty teaching and learning styles
  • Varying expectations and needs from a course (Some students really just want the credits and the grades, with no interest in networking, etc. and for working professionals, this needs to be an acceptable option.

What does this reality check suggest? Be patient and understanding with yourself and with your students. Check the list of faculty behaviors for growing and building community and if you are doing many of them, what evolves is what makes sense for a particular group of students. Be sure that you are enjoying the interaction, discussions and learning that is happening and then relax.

Tracy Mitrano - Youth, Privacy and Social Networking Technologies

As mentioned earlier, here is a link to Dr. Tracy Mitrano's presentation -- Youth, Privacy and Social Networking Technologies. http://www.ltc.duq.edu/pghbbug/conference/mar07/program-1.htm

Dr. Mitrano is a historian, lawyer and IT manager at Cornell shares her perspectives on the new technologies and delves into the social, legal and learning issues generated by these new technologies. If you have family or friends with teenagers or young students, you are well aware of how the new technologies such as Facebook, MySpace, instant messaging and YouTube are changing the rhythms and patterns of our everyday communications with friends and strangers. (Note: My biggest change over the last few weeks has been leaving my Skype voice/video (www.skype.com) application open on my desktop so I don't miss a call from my daughter who is off in another country.)

This link includes Dr. Mitrano's introduction by Ruth Newberry, Director Educational Technology at Duquesne and current president of the BBUsers group and a welcome by the Duquesne University Provost, Dr. Ralph Pearson. If you have ready video streaming setup on your computer, it is a pleasure to watch.

What does one take away from this presentation? The new social networking technologies are well on their way to relegating email to formal communications. The new social tools enable more "natural" collaboration, including supporting multidimensional communications. These new tools are also pushing all institutions to have more "transparent" policies on privacy and personally identifiable applications.

What about the impact on learning and the learning community that we have been focusing on? Many surprises are ahead, but what is certain is that the culture of collaboration and sharing will continue to rapidly grow. How will we use these culture shifts to increase learning? What course changes should we explore? For a quick look at the potential benefits for the learning paradigm by integrating web 2.0 features into our courses, a recent article by Malcolm Brown from Dartmouth is good food for thought. http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/erm0725.pdf

Notes and References

Brown,M. (2007). "Mashing up the once and future CMS." Educause Review, March/April 2007,42 (2) 8-9. http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/erm0725.pdf Accessed April 3, 2007.

Brown, R. E. (2001). "The Process of community-building in distance learning classes " Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 5(2): 18 - 35. www.sloan-c.org/publications/JALN/v5n2/pdf/v5n2_brown.pdf. Accessed April 2, 2007.

Conrad, R. M. and Donaldson, J. A. (2004). Engaging the Online Learner: Activities and Resources for Creative Instruction. Jossey-Bass (www.josseybass.com).

E-Coaching Tip 41: Stage Three of a Learning Community — Stimulating and Comfortable Camaraderie



Ecoaching Table of Contents



Revised May 20 2013
Copyright Judith V. Boettcher, 1997-2013