Taking a course in Facilitating Online Communities

I am taking 2 “courses” this semester online. I wonder is course is the right word for what these new models of learning events really offer. The first event is Facilitating Online Communities led by Leigh Blackall and the second is Connectivism and Connective Knowledge led by George Siemens and Stephen Downes (more about this one later). The courses are a new and interesting model that bring formal accredited programs into the realm and spirit of Web2.0 learning, by offering free a place to anyone who wants to join, with accredited learning for those who pay the fees and complete formal assessment.

This model of learning is very interesting yet holds many dichotomies. It is firstly free and informal while also being formal and accredited. It has the potential to attract a diverse and critical mass of people in a single conversation about online community facilitation. At the outset it offers an group of unknown size  to take part in a 17 week structured program of learning. It seeks to scaffold people’s learning about facilitating online communities by treating an ad hoc and instantly formed group as a community. It has a formal leader in Leigh who has already signaled that he looks to the group to lead conversations and take up distributed leadership activities.

What do I hope to get out of being a learner in this event?  Well I was firstly attracted by the person leading it – Leigh is a great teacher and thought leader. I have researched online community development with IMCoPs, Internet-mediated communities of practice, being my area of expertise but I want to stay fresh in this game. Being in this event will give me an opportunity to expand my research understandings and further my search for community case studies as part of my fledgling Community Capers blog. The whole Web2.0, social networking, connectivism pedagogy leads us to recognize ourselves as constantly learning but it is interesting that we still crave these landmarks of coming together as opposed to individual and amorphous sets of realtionships we each build over time. So while I can read Clay Shirky‘s Here Comes Everybody: The power of organizing without organizations and follow my favorite thought leader blogs, I still find myself wanting to be part of organized events with structure and boundaries, and to be learning from colleagues and fellow practitioners. One of the findings in my research into successful IMCoP development was that the shared understanding of the value of being together was a strong component. In many cases that shared understanding was drawn from a shared experience like this workshop. So for me it is the teacher, the very fulsome 17 week curriculum and the potential of the group and the shared experience that drew me here.  When I finished my doctorate last year I went into a bit of a learning hiatus but I am back now with a vengeance and keen to participate to the fullest. Bring it on!