Thursday, September 10, 2009

FOC09 - Online Communities discussion

It has been an interesting couple of weeks coming to terms with what online communities are. I really wanted to find an online community in hospitality or hotel (but the ones I looked at were more blogs or were inactive). As an avid reader, I then decided to look at forums relating to book lovers – I found one that seemed to have a good following, were very active, however, I still await my invite to be accepted! Very frustrating. So I finally decided to look at Networked Learning which describes it self as “people in Otago investigating Networked learning”. There are 71 members in the group but not all from the Otago region. Many of the members have photos and brief profiles about themselves which makes it feel more of a community.

In my search of forum’s I also wanted to consider the features of an online community based on people’s blogs in the course and also the discussions we have had within class meetings, some of which are as follows:

  • communicating towards a common goal
  • bringing people together that have the same interest
  • like minded people sharing information
  • level of contribution is dependent on individual choice
  • shared knowledge (through shared experiences, question/answers

Despite these, there is also the sense of how long it takes for an online community to build trust with each other (this is can be debated, some people will like the anonymity of this type of forum, where as others will feel that trust takes time when you are not f2f). I also need to gain a better understanding of the forums and the role of facilitators and moderators.

Howard Reingold lists sensible, practical techniques with the following topics:

  • What an online host wants to achieve
  • Good online discussions
  • What a host does, what a host tries to grow
  • Host behaviour

An article by Nancy White identifies the four frameworks for online facilitation, group processes, applications, key skills, and links to relevant articles. I found her comments relating to facilitators as role models interesting as she stated ‘they are often the first members to be challenged” and then went on to say that “integrity, patience, a good sense of humour and a love of other people will be valued in any host”. The key skills she identified included:

  • Group facilitation skills
  • Cybrarianship
  • Passion for community
  • Ability to facilitate facilitative behaviours within the community

She also went on to say that the facilitator may also act as a ‘referee’, and would also need further skills such as a “thick skin and slow fuse, internet experiences, familiarity with common netiquette”.

As I know some of the members of the group, I decided to contact someone that I did not know to pose the question of whether they felt the forum required a facilitator. The person I contacted suggested that for them they did not feel that this particular forum required facilitation. They said “the conversations all seem to occur on email and participants respond to items of interest to them”. They went on to say as they responded on Gmail email, all of these discussions are connected in one thread and so they did not need them pulled together in any other way. However, for others it may be useful. They did say that this could be a fairly time consuming job and would require quite a commitment from someone. They said that the use of facilitation is where a person assists in coordinating the forum to help focus people around a particular issue, or the writing of a summary to close a thread in the forum.

After our class meeting last night, I have also been thinking about the time involved in such a job and as was mentioned many of these forums are ‘interest’ groups and therefore there would be no funding for this role.

I look forward to comments and suggestions.


  1. Thank you for this post which nicely summarizes how discussion forums are. One thing I'd like to ask is: what do you think Nancy White means by the word "Cybrarianship"

  2. and..I should have does it relate to facilitation?

  3. Ohn I do love the thick skin slow fuse aspect of life. Again with Sarah I wonder what "Cybrarianship" is?
    You do make me think about this though, so thank you.

  4. I'm wondering if it is along the same lines as Siemens idea of should get in touch with Nancy & ask her what she meant...she'd be happy to talk to you about it.

  5. Thanks Sarah and Willie for your comments and of course making me delve a little more into what I have written. I have not been in touch with Nancy, but I think from what she has written and also from reading a little about 'cybrarianship' that this role provides the forum that may be the expert and will be able to assist the community with sourcing further information that is required for their learning. In many ways, it is the 'virtual librarian'. Where we would have gone to the library and sought information via a librarian f2f, we can do this ourselves on the computer, or the 'cybrarian' can help us in our online community. I am hoping that I have understood this correctly and not gone off on a tangent! or opened a can of worms!

  6. Hi there
    I am also interested in the term 'cybrarianship' (or the cyber-libarian?). I am going to listen to a couple of Libarians here at UCOL talk at a lunchtime meeting later this week on making uses of library technology in your LMS- I will try and remember to ask one of them what the term might mean to them...I think you are on the right track though...


  7. Hi Rachel

    It comforts me to hear that you couldn't get the responses you wanted ether. I tried to get an interview but my forum was more a question and answer session, a network. I am hoping that I can get a better response this week. Good luck to you also.