The infamous and ubiquitous # is about to become part of my vocabulary! Until I started this course, I never thought that Twitter could be used in an educational setting. Actually, I had a fairly negative view of it. I saw it as a tool for outspoken people to vent their opinions. Tweets were those annoying comments that appear on screen during Q & A that distract my attention from the guest speaker. Not surprising then, Q & A’s host, Tony Jones, hasn’t joined (yet). But now that I’ve signed up and have a steady stream of interesting tweets flowing in constantly from libraries and librarians, I can see how useful Twitter is for my professional development. My first Twitter chat (#auslibchat) was exciting and stimulating. I think it will provide a fun and entertaining way to learn. My main concern is that chats will remain superficial and topics will not be unpacked adequately to construct meaning. With the right scaffolding though, I think we will be able to have some insightful chats. I look forward to using it.
In considering a learning community, I first wanted to define community. The Cambridge online dictionary defines it as:
the people living in one particular area or people who are considered as a unit because of their common interests, social group, or nationality
In my own experience, living in a particular area has not been a determining factor in the communities I belong to, however, shared interests and goals have. I belong to a number of communities both online and offline. My work organisation community is a state government agency where I work as a contact centre customer service advisor. Also, my side passion of yoga – I am a qualified yoga teacher – has led to my creating a small community of like-minded followers through my weekly classes at a local community hall and online videos on YouTube. In addition, I use social media on a regular basis to keep in touch with friends, family, teachers and peers. Occasionally, there are opportunities to collaborate in my communities, but mostly, communication is used to build relationships, and to stay up to date with events and changes.
Now I find myself in a learning community where I must utilise online communication tools and collaborative approaches to learning. Although I’ve worked in study groups before, the prospect of never actually meeting my classmates and teachers in the flesh is a new prospect. Since enrolling, I obediently started using Twitter and Google+ to engage with teachers and students. So what is a learning community in the digital age? Garrison states:
In a technologically connected society, the community dimension is defined by the identity of the participants in the group, not the physical location. That is, participants identify with why they are members of the group – the purpose for the group’s existence. It is a place to connect with others who possess similar interests and goals. In short, community displays the characteristics of common purpose, interdependence, collaboration, communication, and trust.(from: Thinking collaboratively: Learning in a community of inquiry p.54)
A Community of Inquiry approach underpins the learning community. It consists of three interdependent presences – cognitive, social and teaching. These presences are equally important to successful learning outcomes. As Garrison writes:
“…social presence is the soul of a community of inquiry, cognitive presence is the heart of a community of inquiry…teaching presence is the backbone” (from: Thinking collaboratively: Learning in a community of inquiry p. 71).
How can I flourish in this new type of community?
At my core, I’m a sensitive idealist. The Myer-Briggs Type Indicator describes me as an ENFJ type – Extrovert, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging type. Thus far, my natural way of behaving in communities, both online and offline, is to be very tentative. I take time to observe and get a feel for the people and environment before I feel comfortable to open up authentically. Like many, I am frightened of ridicule, but I respond well to constructive feedback from those whose opinion I respect. I may be perceived as quiet, shy and a bit awkward (I asked my 14-year-old tech savvy son what my online profile was like, and he responded with ‘awkward’, and said I behaved awkwardly with people I didn’t know very well). A feeling of trust is very important for me to open up. Despite being at times reserved, I can be assertive in seeking clarification, and ensuring others are heard and acknowledged. In my professional communities, I am reliable and obedient. I satisfy and sometimes exceed what is expected of me.
I believe I will play an active role in the IFN 614 learning community particularly in the area of social presence. Supporting group cohesion and open communication will come naturally to me. However, I will need to come out of my comfort zone to display a high level of cognitive presence. Triggering, exploring, integrating and resolving in an online public domain is a new approach for me. Communication will be two-way and I’ll have to be prepared to have my beliefs and thoughts tested and pulled apart, which is a little disconcerting. How will I be perceived? Each comment creates my online reputation. Will I be misconstrued? Will I ever work in this town again?
But from a collaborative approach to learning and innovation, multiple perspectives are valuable (from: Thinking collaboratively: Learning in a community of inquiry p. 18). The key is to build trust for open communication so that one point of view does not dominate. Personally, I will need to muster the courage to bring something to the table and be prepared for it to be pulled apart and turned on its head. Likewise, I’ll need to question and explore other people’s ideas. It’s a little scary for this sensitive idealist, but one I’ll need to practice and get used to because collaborative skills are essential for professional life today and the future.