Finding the middle ground.
I have been involved in quite a few communities in the past, both in person and online, and I think there are two different ways that I instinctively engage. Firstly, I tend to take on a leadership role in many of the groups I have been involved with. I have well thought out ideas, I also find that I can articulate and summarize points that have been made by others in the group, and I am confident in speaking up, so this tends to mean that I naturally gravitate towards a leadership role. The second way that I react in communities is to withdraw and become a quiet observer or decide I am not a good match for this community and leave altogether. I usually find myself at one of these extremes, rarely in the middle ground.
In the past, most of the communities I have been involved in have revolved around my interests or hobbies and have been made up largely of people who share very similar beliefs and values to me. They have been communities that I joined voluntarily, so it has been easy for me to take on leadership roles (voluntary groups are always desperate for people to take on committee positions) or to withdraw from if I wished. Garrison says that “identity, cohesion and communication are needed to overcome the struggle between the interests of the individual and the interests of the group”, however I think that, I have simply selected groups to join who shared the same goals as my personal goals so the struggle was therefore largely eliminated. If the group goals turned out to not match my personal goals then I was pretty much out of there. As I move in to my professional career however this will not always be the case.
In my professional career, as in our IFN614 class, I am likely to be involved in communities with participants from a much wider range of backgrounds with different experiences and beliefs. These groups will often include other people who are equally adept at the leadership role and who are in fact paid to take on this position. This will be more of a challenge for me to regulate my own behaviour as it would not be wise for me to be a leader or a silent observer in these situations; here I need to find that middle ground. I need to be mindful to control my enthusiasm for sharing my ideas so as to let other people express themselves. I need to be open to new learnings. While I am doing this I do however also want to take advantage of opportunities that may arise where it would be appropriate for me to take on that leadership role.
I was interested in the discussion in Garrison about the ‘teaching presence’ in the Community of Inquiry Framework. People might naturally assume that this is the role taken on by the group leader, but in fact Garrison points out that in a learning community all members should assume some responsibility as the teaching presence. This reassures me that even in a community where I am not playing a leading role, my leadership skills can still be an asset. I quite like this list from ‘A Primer on Communication Studies” as it outlines ways that leaders can ensure other members of the group are heard…
“some of the key leadership behaviors that contribute to the task-related functions of a group include the following:John F. Cragan and David W. Wright, Communication in Small Group Discussions: An Integrated Approach, 3rd ed. (St. Paul, MN: West Publishing, 1991), 131–32.
- Contributing ideas
- Seeking ideas
- Evaluating ideas
- Seeking idea evaluation
- Visualizing abstract ideas
- Generalizing from specific ideas”
We had some interesting discussions in class last semester about introvert and extroverts and this has also made me more aware of the need to ensure that everyone in the learning community has the opportunity to express themselves in one way or another.
I look forward to seeing how our community develops over the semester and hearing what others have to say.