“That’s not a course…it’s a community.”

In our most recent class session for GRAD602 we explored the idea of course sites as platforms of participation. My colleague Britt Watwood led the session and took us on a reflective tour of web-based course sites. This is a schtick Britt has facilitated many times before, and it always begins with a review of the history of the LMS – its development, functionality and the rapid adoption by faculty in higher education. The basic premise is that LMS technology is a rather teacher-centered technology whose appeal lies in the fact that it tends to reinforce existing practices, and functions well to serve as a parking lot for course content and keeps grades locked up safe and available to students. Britt paints a slightly more rosy picture, but that is the gist of it. Students in class reported that their experience of the LMS is not all that well aligned with the idea of being a platform of participation. It is a pretty good platform of compliance though.

Britt then transitioned to taking a look at our current course site which we’ve developed on WordPress, it includes a collection of course feeds via netvibes, a twitter feed, and podcasts. Nothing new here, in fact we’ve shamelessly copied much of this stuff from others far more creative than we are. Yet the course site has some life beyond any single semester instance…it hints at the hope of an extended community…but its not quite there yet. Still, the students noticed that the experience and feel of the WP site was more inviting and was a bit more in line with being a platform of participation (no pressure for them to say that, huh?).

We then took a turn to explore the idea of fan sites. Fan culture on the web is a pretty interesting seam in the conversation around course sites…at least we thought so. The idea of groups forming to share interests, ideas, resources…and engage in dialogue / banter / harangue…around a topic of mutual passion…these sound like awesome ingredients for building online communities. Britt pitched a Justin Bieber fan site (which I purposely will not link to here). There are literally tons of web-based community sites, where user-generated content is the coin of the realm. There really seems to be some value in having course sites collide with fan sites on the web. Henry Jenkins has written far more eloquently about this topic for years…so I’ll just leave that one on the table.

We then pitched ds106 as an example of a course site that seems to have successfully emulated this collision I briefly described. While ds106 was conceived as a course (an open course) it now seems more course-like as it evolved and grew into its current form from robust community involvement that helped to build and grow it…the radio show, the daily create, the assignment bank…user-generated learning content. The students in GRAD602 picked up on these ideas and I was particularly struck by a comment a student made during our discussion in response to ds106…”That is not a course…it’s a community!” That really rang in my ears for a while…and is worth stating again.

“That is not a course…it’s a community!”

Somehow the statement seemed to be suggesting that courses are not supposed to be communities. Or perhaps that notions of community are nice, but not altogether consistent with time honored notions of academic courses. Why not?

We used this statement as a springboard for a post-class debrief which we recorded and posted here:

We discussed a few pieces that seem to contribute to course sites moving towards communities:

  • Shelf Life – Ongoing access to the materials and discussions beyond any one semester
  • Multiple Entry Points – Supports sharing of learner-generated content
  • Open – Can engage the wider interwebs
  • [Re]engagement – “Can I come back?” Provides opportunities for past students to revisit the course

What else might you add?