Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Expanding my mind - What is a community?

After a recent email discussion and a direct comment on my misunderstanding of the Facilitating Online Communities course (FOC08), I have retreated to the corner for some quiet reading and thinking time. As our facilitator had stated and challenged, teachers were hesitant to step outside their experience of education to contemplate community facilitation in a broader context.

So I've chased some reading and listening, and some thoughts, to expand my understanding of what Leigh Blackall is attempting to get us to consider. These thoughts below are not inter-related, but have stemmed from my thinking, reading and listening.

Firstly, I should consider the concept of community similar to what is my PLN. There are a range of connections I utilise to provide me inspiration and knowledge, but I do not manage them. The information they generate is independent of me, however they form a significant part of what is me. My facilitation of these is simply seek, sort and utilise. It was when I considered this that I began to understand (hopefully) what Leigh is talking about. So what roles exist in this community. Certainly I am the moderator, selecting to digest and utilise only the information I deem important or interesting. My moderation does not extend to influence over what information is published or posted within the PLN, simply what is attended to. In regards to facilitation, I believe this relates to the environment I establish for the PLN. For example, I use a netvibes account to aggregate the blogs I read and juice for podcasts. Times of aggregation and distribution from there is my facilitation. Do I have a teaching role in this community, I don't believe so.

Secondly, I reflected on my experience within my son's soccer team. As the coach I have a direct role for teaching, and this is obvious. I then thought of community as how the parents interact. We organise outings to the park, volunteering for reffing and washing jerseys, collecting match payments etc. No-one takes control of this, is just happens. This to me represented the community aspect. A group coming together under similar interests, and interacting within the environment. Each person offered to contribute, and the others supported the contribution. Again, within this community there is no teaching and I perceive we all facilitate to a degree. With this particular community I perceive moderation would be personal and internal.

To delve back into my world as a teacher, I can see how this developing understanding could produce interesting learning experiences and outcomes within my classes. It certainly ties in with my beliefs about connectivism and transformative learning.

I believe I am beginning to develop a true understanding of community and how their existence and function does not necessarily have to end in an educational goal.


Leigh Blackall said...

Nice one! I think you are on the right path. Your examples are not so much looking at the domain that a professional facilitator might occupy, but perhaps more importantly the aspects of community. While I don't want to go back into a conversation about teaching practices (your new direction has far more potential) you can see that the teaching aspect is simply an event within a broader, if under appreciated context. In the case of the soccer, it may be true that the coaching of kids to play soccer is central, but appreciating the full experience as you have begun to do could lead to something more fulfilling and engaging for the kids and their parents. The teaching becomes less of a focus, but still an important event and purpose.

But I'd be keen to see you go further away from your teacher frame. This is just a start. You have brought forth some nice community aspects, keep doing that. What about thinking of professional facilitation? Where does that take place? Its everywhere really, just under appreciated and often over shadowed by other events - like teaching :)

Jenny said...

I like your reflective thoughts on what a community is. As a teaching credential student, I have been reading about different teaching methods, one being to create a community environment inside the classroom. I believe by having everyone collaborate together as a community, more can be accomplished. It gives more opportunity for the students to not only learn, but to also teach each other. I like your examples of how this occurs outside of the classroom as well, such as on the soccer field. Great thoughts!

shane.tech.teach said...

Leigh - professional facilitation. Interesting, had not thought that far. Back to my corner for some thinking.