K-12: Valuing online communities

I recently had an opportunity to present to our senior admin group to examine new directions concerning access to online resources. As part of the preliminary discussion, I outlined a frame of reference that included:

  • the value of online communities as an extension of school communities and classrooms, and
  • aligning internet resource selection processes with existing resource selection processes to form a basis of comparison as a starting point.

During the presentation, I made the following points to frame the discussion:

A growing body of evidence validates the importance of the sense of community within the learning environment for administrators, teachers and students alike. Benefits include:

  • promote life long learning
  • engaged learners
  • a sense of belonging and support
  • a culture of learning and sharing
  • communities are built on trust
  • embrace Character Development and Digital Citizenship ideals

In his book, Grown Up Digital, Don Tapscott promotes 7 strategies that support a ‘School 2.0’ environment. The strategies are summarized as follows:

  • Focus on the change in pedagogy, not the technology itself. Use technology for a student-focused, customized and collaborative learning environment
  • Reduce lecturing, broadcast learning does not work as effectively for this generation of learners. Allow the students to co-create a learning experience
  • Empower students to collaborate
  • Focus on life long learning
  • Use technology to get to know each student
  • Design programs that leverage the strengths of the Net Generation in project based learning
  • Reinvent your as an educator

Further to this presentation, I have been reading Six Pixels of Separation by Mitch Joel.  Mitch also documents some important characteristics of communities. Although some of these statistics are more business oriented, I feel there is a strong connection to educational based online communities. Mitch notes that community users:

  • spend more money that non community users
  • remain customers 50% longer than non community members
  • visit 9 times more often than non community members
  • login one or more times per day (56%)

Additionally, 43% of Internet user who are members of online communities say they feel ‘as srtongly connected’ to their virtual communities as their real world communities.

To my way of thinking, these are impressive statistics. Online communities are here stay, are highly valued by users and provide valuable professional learning and sharing opportunities. It seems to me that it is equally important to establish online communities as a natural extension to school communities and classrooms. It is time to charge ahead and embrace social media tools within the curricula, not as an option, but as a planned strategy of curriculum delivery and learning opportunties.

~ Mark