Monday, June 15, 2009

Elements of Community Success

In 2007, President Bill Clinton spoke at Middlebury College's commencement and conveyed the importance of community and identity in today's interconnected global society. During his speech, he pointed out that every successful community has three things:
  1. a broadly shared opportunity to participate
  2. a broadly felt responsibility for the success of the enterprise
  3. a genuine sense of belonging
I thought about these elements and wondered: When it comes to online educational communities, are we hitting all three?
  1. Opportunity to participate: Tools that support online communities, such as Ning, Facebook, and Twitter, are user-friendly, are available free of charge, and do not require extensive technical knowledge -- or even great bandwidth -- to utilize. In this sense, the opportunity to participate seems vast. And yet in numerous school districts, Internet filters block access to these resources, thereby diminishing the opportunity to participate. How can we remedy this? How can veterans of filter battles effectively help others learn from their experience?
  2. Feeling of responsibility for success: I believe that most educators who jump into online communities feel a strong responsibility for success: for their students, for their own professional development, and for overall educational improvement on local, national, and global levels. And yet, what generates sustained active participation in online communities is a clear sense of purpose and perceived value. What steps can community leaders take to improve motivation to help a group succeed?
  3. Genuine sense of belonging: Online community participants have commented that they feel their personal learning networks are like an extended family. Requests for assistance are answered, concern over dilemmas is shared, and arguments are periodically impossible to avoid. If the opportunity to meet face-to-face occurs, conversations may feel effortless due to preexisting familiarity and connection. And yet, others struggle more to navigate these online crowds and may get lost in the shuffle. How can we, as moderators or participants, reach out to strengthen that sense of belonging? How can we empower participants to become more active and as a result feel more connected?
Online educational communities are growing and contributing to powerful interactions, collaborations, resource sharing, enlightenment, and professional growth. But to ensure these communities' success, it might be worthwhile to ponder these three elements and reflect on our potential to improve upon each of them.

President Clinton's speech is available in video and transcript format.