Friday, 11 January 2013

Friday Reflection!

Week 2 of 2013 and Still going!

We are approaching the end of the second week of 2013.  This week I have started to take a little bit of a perspective of the size of the task I have taken on and the work needed so far for Haverhill Online Learning Community (HOLC).  I have used my new Google profile picture (pictured left) to illustrate the effect the effort has had on some days.  The cat appreciates a comfortable sleeping place and the fact that I am not in front of a screen!  A bit of quality purring going on!  That said there is starting to be a bit of satisfaction in the fact content is starting to be added to the website.  Recognition of the idea by others (thanks +Gail Poulin and +Rob Perhamus for your Google Plus comments) and it's potential value for a Learning Community.

HOLC itself is a relatively small community at present.  We are in the establishment phase at the moment.  The lag phase (to borrow a term for biology and bacteriology) so to speak of establishing a new community. this is the stage of adaptation to the needs of the community by interaction.  Once a critical mass of participants the log or exponential growth phase should be steady.  Reaching a stationery phase of growth is the difficult stage to recognise.  Four scenarios may exist once a stationary phase is reached.  Firstly the community remains the same and is limited by the "space" of the interactions and activities   Secondly a  death phase of the community starts to take over as interest and engagement is lost.  Thirdly a community interaction puts the community back into the lag phase or growth phase.  The fourth scenario is the formation of a new colony or community separate or in addition to the original community.  There are precedents in Ancient Greek society for this which resulted in the formation of new colonies such Marseille (Massalia), Syracuse (in Sicily) and Emporium (Spain).  These examples still survive today but do not necessarily (or have to speak) Greek because they now have their own identity.    

Measuring the success of the community and being able to recognise the different phases is a  skill of the moderator or facilitator of the community.  The last thing that needs to be done  when a community appears to be going into the death phase is to throw the baby out with the bath water!  Do we judge objectively success of a community by numbers of members?  Do we judge it by the number of active members?  There are a lot of Google+ Communities with 2000+ (in some some cases 30000+) that have been set up.  I have joined some of these larger communities and it is quite apparent rapidly that there are only a relatively few core active members.  There are a lot of "lurkers".  But as we have discussed in the #oflc set up +Jeannie Crowley these may become active when there is something they feel they have an opinion on.  A index of Active or lurker/size of community (AL/C) within  a time frame could be a measure of the success of the communities aims and the ownership of that community by it's members.

Is the success criteria  of AL/C  a measure of the quality of engagement?  I suppose it all depends on which stage of the lifecycle of the community you are in.  Subjectively as a facilitator you may have the success criteria that establishment shows that you have a successful community.  Objectively the participants may say the quality of the interactions and the scope of the material might be their success criteria and why they joined.  Pictures of cats might not be everybody's cup of tea, for which other communities might be a more appropriate forum (honest only use the four legged assistant for illustration purposes).

Meeting diverse success criteria are some of the  challenges that the online community community and facilitators must face in the evolution of the online learning community.  MOOCs which are the longest established are undergoing a possible  entry into a stationery phase.  I say stationery phase as it has been identified by some that their  free model of engagement might not be sustainable  against the other demands that their constituent universities might have to satisfy.  

The success of an  educational model is a trade of the finite price of what the market is prepared to pay for and a floor price at which providers are unable to go below.  This is possibly where the Open Learning Community has it's place.  The initiator of awe and wonder in Life Long Learning.  Where certification is required the MOOCS take over.  A community that keeps a core perspective of why it was set up will probably be adaptable to it's members needs.  Also there has to be a realistic view that a community  can be considered to be a living organism as well.  The health of an Online Learning Community is not  necessarily judged as to does it meet the success criteria of the initiators.  The quality of the social interactions might overwhelm the learning aspects.  For instance the idea of visiting a garden together in a group to learn the  names of flowers might have been the original intention for forming a Garden Group.  The social aspect of having a day out might be goal of the people participating.

A fairly wordy discussion of the life cycle of an Online Learning Community.  The phase that Haverhilll Online Learning Community and are in definitely the lag phase.  The task for this week is to try to publicise the community to grow size of the community.  I have a number of meetings coming up including attendance of the Best of Haverhill event organised by +Elaine Carr which providea a great opportunity for local networking of the "traditional" face to face variety.  Will have to remember to take some business cards along!     

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