Friday, September 26, 2014

Creating Learning Communities with Individuals

I've been sampling a number of xMOOC courses lately, with a particular interest in their approach(es) to community-based activities. Most feature a fairly common template, one which is also popular in traditional online courses.

In this approach the instructor/course treats the class community as a homogeneous element -- trying to move it in lock step from Point A to Point B. Community-based assignments, then tend to be discussion prompts in which homogeneous community members provide an answer to a homogeneous question set based on a collection of homogeneous information. After each member of the homogeneous class community has posted their fairly homogeneous response to this homogeneous question based on a homogeneous set of information, individual students are then asked to reply to the homogeneous responses. It is at this point, I believe, that the community connections are supposed to occur. In reality, by this time, all posts are pretty much the same so students just pick a couple and write their homogeneous replies without needing to give much thought given to the original posts. Occasionally, some student who either doesn't understand the instructions or doesn't understand that they are supposed to be acting homogeneously, will fly off the rails and disrupt the whole enterprise. The homogeneous structure of the course is generally so strong, however, that this type of insensitive behavior is quashed rather effectively.

I contrast this with the Storybook Project that my friend Laura Gibbs employs in her Mythology and Folklore online course. In this course design models, students are treated as heterogeneous community members who are allowed to select and write heterogeneous stories/posts based on heterogeneous information sets tied together by a common set of ideas. As a result of the individualization of the information and the topics, students write creatively and passionately. Other students, when asked to comment on the storybooks created by other students, often do so with equal interest and passion, which leads to legitimate connections and a vibrant community.

In case I haven't made the contrast clear, ere is a simple visual of the two models.



  1. Thanks so much, Rob! Let the heterogeneity run wild, ha ha! I love that description of the traditional read/view-discuss... read/view-discuss... rinse and repeat model of online interaction. I definitely would advocate for heterogeneity as being more fun.
    I keep an archive of past student projects here:
    eStorybook Central Archive
    And the projects for this semester are really starting to take off now too!
    Myth-Folklore Storybooks
    Indian Epics Storybooks
    And I'm trying ... slowly but surely! ... to document all my course strategies here:
    Anatomy of an Online Course
    Now I think I need to write something for that blog on why there is NOT a discussion board in my class, ha ha. :-)

    1. Thanks for providing the links, Laura. I should have put these in. I hope everyone will take the time to look at these.

  2. This attempt at documentation is something new... since I made so many changes with this summer (because of Ning going away, and the whole domino effect of that), I wanted to try to sort out the new and the old because in a couple of years even I won't remember the sequence of events ha ha. You know how that goes! I need some external memory here.