Saturday, November 22, 2008

FOC08 thinking

It is interesting to see how the FOC08 community has mellowed. After the initial urgency and chaos, everyone settled down. Some got to work - they are enrolled in the course for credit so they are motivated. Some drifted off for a variety of reasons. And some of us hung out on the sidelines. It isn't lurking exactly, because I am participating in my own way.

The mini-conferences were an interesting opportunity for organizing online community events. I have enjoyed and learned from the facilitators blog postings. Congratulations to all - this is a remarkably difficult task. Even when the conferences didn't work out as hoped or expected, the mini-conferences were wonderful learning experiences.

The mini-conferences have some similarities with my online courses. Just getting a critical mass of participants can be challenging. Promotion, engagement, relevance are factors. Being subtle has no place in this. Getting "bums in seats" is difficult. Getting them to sit still long enough to become part of the community and the conference is even harder. Luck plays a surprisingly big role.

Community for credit (as in academic credit) is a significant factor. Is this actually a "community" as we understand it? I like to think it can be. The students that stick around for the full 12-week semester have a strong relationship to their classmates. It is more about them - student-to-student, than student-to-teacher or student-to-content. Yes, the course credit gives them an incentive to join and stay, but it doesn't require them to come together with sharing and caring. But it certainly helps provide continuity and a place for the community to grow.

From both the FOC08 and the CCK08 experiences, it is interesting to see how the large numbers of participants sort out - up-front active and highly visible to seldom seen but still there. I was particularly struck by the "attendance" at the CCK08 live meetings. From a "registered" population of over 2000 at the outset, 20-30 people participate in real-time. And I wondered why I had so much trouble getting 20 students in the same time zone to participate in synchronous events. It is about the laws of large numbers. I hadn't realized how large the base needed to be. The good attendance at FOC08 mini-conferences is remarkable, in this light.

I am involved in building and sustaining several communities - women with limited access to education, faculty with similar interests but no time to meet face-to-face any more, a local political group, a group of hikers, and scaling a leadership program beyond its physical limitations. In each case, an online representation is key to their existence. How participants participate may be different than originally envisioned - less direct feedback, delayed responses... But the value and the importance are still getting through. We leaders, organizers and facilitators will need to adjust, too.


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