Definition of Community: Dictionary. Com defines community as “a group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality…” and an online or virtual community as “a group of people who interact via the Internet Websites, chat rooms, news groups, email, discussion boards or forums” (“Definition,” 2017, p. 1). A combined definition would read, a group of people of any size whose whose members interact primarily via the internet, in this paper I will build on this definition to explain what a community means to me.
What does community mean to me? For me community means a group of people who have something in common. In nursing, we are a group of people with a common goal, to help people improve their health. Even when they do not want to make the much needed life style changes that will improve their health, as they like having someone taking care of them. This could be compared to some learners, who take a course because it is mandatory and they only participate enough to finish the course. Communities evolve in different ways, from a formal classroom where learners share the goal of advancing their education, a workplace where nurses with more experience are mentoring and assisting newer nurses or in a locker room where a sports team is working on the play book. I remember reading a story about a country that did not believe in educating women, so the women educated themselves, in secret and with outdated materials, they are a group with a common goal and had become their own community.
An online community is a group whose members interact primarily via the internet, one of the ways this community becomes successful is when the instructor creates time at the beginning of the course to get to know the learner and an opportunity for the learners to get to know each other. Participating in an online community such as a discussion forum was difficult for me the first three or four times, I related heavily to the imposter syndrome that I had learned about in the Skillful Teacher, where as I learner I did not have the skills or brains to take a program to become an instructor. I would ask myself who did I think I was, everyone has more education than I do, I had a mentor who kept me believing in myself and as my confidence grew I began to see that I have a lot to offer in the discussion forum. I found a community of nurses and other professionals, who like me, had made the choice to change careers later in life, as we supported each other and shared our stories we have become a community.
Context considerations to creating an online community: The creation of an online community within a course for any purpose requires clearly written instructions on the following (Brookfield, 2006).
- how to use the technology to post comments
- how posts are graded, what makes a good post, what is a bad post
- when the instructor will be available, how to contact the instructor
- what the purpose is of the discussion board
- netiquette, what is acceptable rules of behavior
Best Practices for online instructors: The Online Teaching Survival Guide provides a list of the ten best practices for designing an online course (Boettcher & Conrad, 2016). The best practices that relate to online community are:
- Be present in your course: Get to know your learners, is this a first online course, let the learner know that you are there for them.
- Create a supportive online course community: communication should be frequent between instructor and learner, connect learner with technology/ resources, learners to each other, mentor, remind and inspire learners to continue with the learning
- Develop a set of explicit workload and communication expectations for your learners and yourself: let you learners know how to contact you, when you will be online, what do you expect from the learner
- Ask for informal feedback early in the term: ask you learner how the course is going for them, then you have time to problem solve if needed,
- Prepare discussion posts that invite responses, question, discussions and reflections: create open ended questions that are relevant to the learning, validate learning and that encourage the learner to think creatively.
- Think digital for all courses: can the learner access the course content from any device, greater flexibility will increase learner engagement.
- Plan a good closing and wrap activity for the course: a good closing will help the learner to put all their learning together and allow them to understand how they can use this learning when they leave the course.
The Role of the Instructor: The instructor’s role in an online community as defined in The Skillful Teacher (Brookfield, 2006) is one of:
- Mentor/guide: who guides the instruction and offers support to the learner, prepares the learner to move forward with their learning
- Credible: learners want to know that instructors know what they are teaching, they have “something important to offer”.
- Authentic: instructors need to be seen as open and honest by the learners, that they love what they are doing
- Subject matter expert/ experienced: learner want to know that the instructor is knowledgeable about what they are teaching.
- Facilitator: the one who sets up the course and makes sure that everyone is following the rules, meeting the goals and objectives of the course
The Role of the Learner: the learner role is:
- Responsibility: the learner has to assume responsibility for their own learning, do the required work, participate in group activities and ask questions if they do not understand something
- Take Risks: learners need to take some risks with their learning, try something new or use new language so that it becomes natural, the safest place to do this is in a classroom
- Assess: learners need to assess their own learning and that of the course work, be willing to say what worked, what did not and to pass on tips to the next class
- Collaborate: learners need to collaborate with other learners and their instructor
- Respond: to other learner comments on discussion boards and to the instructor
- Respect: they need to respect the classroom and online etiquette
- Commitment: they need to be committed to group work and doing what they say they are going to do
This is not an exhaustive list but there needs to be respectful communication between everyone for a community to be a success.
How will I deal with any ethical, cultural and/or gender implications related to community development? When I am developing my community, I will be mindful of who my learners are. I teach nurses who work in a variety of areas, such as, a surgical ward where patients are expected to improve and go home or a palliative care unit where the end of life care is the expectation of practice. Nurses already have ethical standards that they must adhere to from the employer and the regulatory body, using these and the best practices for online instructors, I will create a community where respect of each other and the profession is promoted and the community will be one where “learning, sharing, trust…” (Pittella & Rotstein, 2017) is the theme. This may seem easy, but in the world of nursing it may not be, I could be assisting with education in a palliative care unit and the nurses do not agree with the level of care decisions made by the patient for their end of life care, or about the government changes to nurses’ regulation and how they will be expected to change their practice.
I will also have to research who my learners are, what are the agency policies and the regulatory standards of practice that the nurses are expected to follow. Then I will include a conversation about how the nurses feel about the changes, do they feel they need more education and how will this learning fit in with the already busy workload. I will include a conversation on ethics, and include what options do they have if they do not agree with a client’s care decision, a face to face conversation would be easier as you can see the learners body language. In a discussion forum, I will provide clear guidelines at the beginning of the forum, then monitor the site frequently to check that everyone is being respectful, become the enforcer of the rules of conduct, delete posts if necessary, speak with the learner directly about the post and redirect the conversation if needed, this will not be an easy role for me. So I will need lots of preparation time and conversations with my co-workers on how they manage these situations and understanding my personal responsibilities related to my organizational policies.
Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. M. (2016). The Online Teaching Survival Guide (second ed.). San Francisco CA: Jossey-Bass.
Brookfield, S. D. (2006). The Skillful Teacher (Second ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Definitions of Community. (2017). Retrieved from http://www.dictionary.com/browse/community
Pittella, R., & Rotstein, P. (2017). Creating an Ethical Classroom. Retrieved from http://teaching.monster.com/benefits/articles/3522-creating-an-ethical-classroom
Tompkins, G. E. (2010). Characteristics of a community of Learners. Retrieved from https://www.education.com/reference/article/characteristics-learners-classroom/