This paper explores the ways in which community is developed within a university blended subject. In a subject about 21st Century learning communities it is important that the subject itself becomes and embodies such a community. While it is easy to think that Communities of Practice might be the best road to follow, the notion of social capital features strongly in the development of a learning community that comes together briefly, is artificially created (and deliberately terminated), and yet functions in a remarkably strong way. A study by Hopkins, Thomas, Meredith and Ewing (2004) identified two kinds of social capital: bridging capital and bonding capital. These two capitals (bridging, “weak relationships between numerous people” and bonding, “strong ties within small groups” (p. 371)) are investigated in online communities by Hopkins et al who find that while it might appear at first glance that the relationships established in online communities might be of the ‘bridging’ kind, the reality of these communities is that even through the smallest communication media the relationships can quickly form into the ‘bonding’ kind. This notion of developing strong relationships through relatively small and (apparently) low level communications was demonstrated through the interactions and relationships between students and students, and students and lecturer. This strength of relationship was not only obvious amongst the face to face community but also amongst the online community with the ‘face to facers’.
Using technologies that are, in a sense, cobbled together that include a Ning, Google Hangout, face to face, and anything that the students wish to use, the community is built through carefully structured academic and non-academic activities. The community comes into being through the efforts of the lecturer who can gradually let go as it develops and the community supports itself.
This paper presents the lecturer viewpoint and explores the experiences of a number of students. It examines how they all contributed to each other’s learning and the impacts such contributions have made to their professional lives.
It provides an example of how contemporary social technologies can work to create a rich and rewarding educational environment and how, while useful to understand, the CoP model is not necessarily the most relevant or the most appropriate when building learning communities.
Hopkins, L., Thomas, J., Meredyth, D. & Ewing, S. (2004). Social capital and community building through an electronic network [online]. Australian Journal of Social Issues, v.39, no.4, pp.369-379