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Saturday, June 03, 2006

Creating Communities of Learners

A lot of times you see things about teachers trying to create a community of learners in their classroom, I know that I have it in my own teaching philosophy with some ideas on how I would try to go about achieving this. But let's face it, these communities rarely happen (as evidenced by David Walick's entry entitled Online Communities – Except in Schools).

In the literature, and even in the media and their own promotional material, online learning is said to work best when a virtual learning community is created - but do they really happen?

I have the fortunate experience of spending the last month in a small rural all grade school in my home province, observing and working with a quarter of the school's high school population - the twelve students taking one or more virtual high school courses.

One of the remarkable things that I witnessed was the creation of little learning communities amongst the students at the school engaged in virtual schooling without any actions taken by the school-based or virtual school teacher. Basically these kids would work together on things, turn to each other when they didn't understand something, even schedule bi-weekly sessions at one of their homes for five and six hours at a time that everyone would show up to.

Can you imagine that in a school-based class? When a student has a problem, instead of suffering in silence or simply raising their hand for your help, turning to a neighbour and getting their help - and their neighbour being more than willing to help and for the majority of their conversation to be able the subject area and not what they are planning to do Friday night or did this past weekend! When students have a project to do, everyone in the class getting together outside of school time for three and four and five hours, everyone together doing this project collaboratively to ensure that everyone understands how to do the work!

Granted, this is a small rural school - but these things don't happen in their school-based courses, regardless of the small class sizes (in some cases only eight students) and regardless of the level of difficulty of the course. They don't happen because teachers want it to happen or try to create an environment conducive to it happening.

So, why? Why did this communities of learners develop on their own within these virtual school courses at this school?

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Blogger Nathan Lowell said...

CoP's are organic. You can't mandate them. They depend on the participants and the more a teacher tries to force them together, the more resistence occurs.

What you observed was an organic outgrowth of humans with a shared experience, a common need, and a system negotiated over time.

9:50 AM  
Blogger MKB said...


But there must be a way an instructor can create an environment that is more conducive to allowing these things to form on their own. I mean in some environments they never form, so what is different about spaces where they are allowed to form, even if there is nothing a teacher can do to facilitate their formation other than provide the "right space" (and I'm working under the assumption that there is a right space, because there certainly seems to be a wrong space).

So, what does that right space include?


6:47 PM  
Blogger MKB said...

As a follow-up Nate (and anyone else out there)...

Lisa Neal and Mark Notess of eLearn Magazine (http://elearnmag.org ) just posted are article a couple of days ago entitled "'Deep' Thoughts: Do mandatory online activities help students leave surface-learning behind?" at http://tinyurl.com/lcrsm that I believe speaks to this issue.


10:13 PM  

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