Whether you are a Facebook fan or a professional networker on LinkedIn, you know that online social communities are essential to build momentum around a topic. Every LMS (learning management system) comes with plenty of tools to manage these online interactions. The mere presence of these tools is not enough, so how do you build a thriving community?
It is difficult to distinguish between networks and communities. They are definitely not the same and understanding the difference is important if you are trying to build a community.
Networks enable communities. You are already part of a network at work (hierarchical) or in a sports team (flat). Other networks are the one associated to the webinar you are attending or even the one in your classroom. All of us are linked in a web of networks because of a common purpose or objective and there are boundaries within each network.
Communities are different because of the human element. Within communities there is caring, concern and a desire for mutual support. Think about the neighborhood community that you belong to right now. I have lived in big cities all my life and belonged to several communities. Now I live in a small city in California and the community here is very different. There is a school right across from our house and the kids hang out playing basketball on the street. Then there are the power walkers, the dog walkers, the yard sale guys with lots of stuff, the guys with the amazing Halloween display, etc.
The enduring characteristic that binds each community is the human emotion. Members in a community usually express their emotions in their communication unlike within a network where the objective may be to seek an answer to a problem. A member of a community understands that to receive you also need to give. Members look out for each other and this support is a the key element even in successful online communities. Take a look at the online community for the free operating system – Ubuntu.
Here people are encouraged to use free software, improve it, and pass it on and Moodle has a community of over one million registered users who interact to share ideas, code, information and free support.
As a lecturer, the best thing you can do for yourself and your students is build a community around your class. Just consider the advantages
- They help each other
- Your workload gets reduced
- Your students love you
But seriously, building a community is a legacy for your students as well. One of the best ways to develop your student community is to take advantage of the free professional network – LinkedIn. Go here to set up your LinkedIn Group. Although most of your students are on Facebook, getting them to participate with that profile is not the most professional approach in starting a community. Also most students would not be comfortable sharing their Facebook profile with a lecturer. If your students are not on LinkedIn then by getting them on there you are doing them a professional favor that they will thank you for years to come.