How to create Community?

One challenge that some people in academia are focussed upon is to do with the creation of community.

The quick history of this notion can be captures by creating three paradigms, moments, of discourse: One, the nineties was a period that gave rise to the notion of ‘online hanging’ out through the emergence of discussion groups; Two, the naughties witnessed the education theorists attempting the creation of an “online community hangout ecosystem” for universities; Three, the physical space of universities has been reconfigured as ‘hangout space’.

The hangout space at RMIT.

All these discourses have shown vibrant activity and prototyping. Often though these moments have witnessed the emergence of a narrative of content – what is learned is allowed to become more important than the existence of community. Many discussion groups began to show the emergence of control, and moderators who defined the terms of discourse. Many university online ecosystems were allowed to morph into didactic platforms that actively surveilled students. The physical hangout space is still unfolding as projects within universities – though the multiple narratives of the different stakeholders is threatening the notion of community. I will revisit this when I have more of an understanding of what the emerging culture is. (Though I am available to undertake a tour of my local university campus to explain how we actively achieve community. Email me to set this up.)

All of these forms of affordances – to create community – have tremendous positives. What is common in the existence of the quest for community is the vision that ‘learning communities’ are a good thing and heaps better that ‘solitary learning in enclosed privacy’.

A studio in Slack – ‘ways of dying’ project

This year I am looking at Slack as the location of learning communities. Heaps cheaper than posh buildings. More importantly a great place to create kindliness, joviality and conversation. I am seeing Slack as a threat free domain of peer-to-peer interactions. Possibly with absentee tutors – who would find it hard to be as relaxed as Slack might want them to be – who might feel obliged to use their teaching as demonstration of their teaching-capabilities within a competitive performance score based mileu.

I recently heard a long time Slack user speak of how how this platform was creating a friendlier community in his office/ studio/ workplace. This was digital startup company and subscribed to the notion of the workplace as the location of play. People joked more, has less reason to flame at email, and generally grew as humans.

Wouldn’t we want that in our learning community?

Then we have notions of community permeating into the online space. Good learners are potentially the ones most generous in their interactions with their peers. Good learning is potentially visible where the peer-learning opportunities are greater. A memorable learning community is one that contains some smiles, lost of sharing, and importantly is a hangout.

Slack then redefines the more busy online person as the more generous. One willing to give, and to share and to collaborate.

Its some months away to a focus group I plan to organise to get a group of students to look back and talk about how their learning journey with and without Slack were different. I am looking to see if this online conversation and hanging-out was transformative – did the learner become – and not just learning content. Did people learn new ways of being, thinking, imagining and working? Did the conversation help in the culture of ‘challenging’ what was on offer outside of their projects? Did the conversation help develop robust ‘crap detectors’ (Hemmingway) in the learners? Did they learn to be inquisitive – without worrying about losing time – and able to discard many ideas? Did they learn through conversation to include whimsy, poetry and secrets into their creative practice?

(Would the most active Slack user get a prezzie? I guess a community medal is a viable proposition for such activists!)

Conversation and hanging out is out of fashion – at least within the marked out get-in/get-out revolving door mode of education confined to classes and contact hours. But this does not mean we in university have to be be dismayed by the institutional imperatives. The university is not the bricks and mortar entity ( to paraphrase Pirsig’s Phaedrus). Its the journeys (Eric Thomas PDF attached). It is the community.

Further Readings

There are two texts here (texts I am fond of). One is the former VC of Bristol University (Eric Thomas) talking about community, and the other is Leadbeater mentioning “I Love Bees”.  (PDF below)


VC Bristol University

By Soumitri Varadarajan

Soumitri lives in Melbourne, Australia - #probonodesign #codesign #sustainability #patientexperience #quantifiedself #mdg

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