This assignment is about analysing an ecommunity. I am a member of several ecommunities and regularly participate in discussions that interest me. This year I have joined an ecommunity of Electronics Technology teachers.
An ecommunityand relevant theories
Like any sustainable living community an ecommunity has similar set up and functions. An ecommunity is simply a virtual community and its members use suitable electronic media to communicate with each other. The term virtual community is attributed to Howard Rheingold ( 1993). Ecommunities encourage its members to participate in discussion on issues of common interest. He explains this by saying “ when people carry on public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feelings, to form webs of personal relationships”.
We can comfortably say that an ecommunity is a group of like minded people with common interests and goals. A good community needs to be inclusive. Wenger E ( 1998) expects a community of practice ( CoP) to be a good mix of experts and new learners to connect through debating and sharing knowledge. In my view this can be achieved by setting rules, establishing procedures and having a proper structure. Educational and knowledge sharing communities exist because members want to gain more knowledge through active participation. According to Wenger E ( 1998) this kind of participation refers to“ a process of taking part and also to the relations with others that reflect this process. It suggest both action and connection”. In simpler words learning is social participation. For greater participation a typical ecommunity provides a forum for self paced discussions in a non threatening way.
Overview of EDTSG
The ecommunity that I am focusing on is a newly formed Google group of Electronics Technology teachers called Electronics and Design Technology Steering Group ( EDTSG)
In order to prepare a new kind of workforce the New Zealand Curriculum has recently gone through major changes . It has caused upheaval among the teaching community. Old unit standards are expiring and being replaced by Achievement Standards ( AS ). The examplars of AS for NZCE level 1 Digital Technologies have not been available to the teachers. Schools expect Electronics Technology teachers to write up their own assessment material. We know that many teachers are finding this task very daunting and they have many reasons that include workload, lack of timely support in the form of relevant professional development courses.
Purpose of EDSTG
EDTSG was formed to address the changes taking place in the New Zealand Curriculum ( NZC), in particular the delivery of Digital Technologies Education for level 1 and level 2.
There was a lack of a necessary support system and the Ministry of Education ( MoE) expected teachers to come up with units of work and formal assessment activities.
Ross Petersen , the education manager at ETITO saw the need and initiated to address the issues by organising a steering group firstly throughemailing and then forming an online community. EDTSG has made good progress. Participants are regularly airing their opinions in this open minded non threatening environment. The moderator replies to most of the posts and provokes more participation.
Community membership , Rules and how does ETTSG operates
Currently EDTSG has 39 members and a dedicated moderator, Ross Petersen. He is the national education manager at Electrotechnology Industry Training Organisation ( ETITO).
Community rules are kept simple and use of common sense is expected from the members. The site permits only members to see and add content. Since it is not open to lurkers therefore all information remains within the community. Any interested teacher can request for the membership through an invitation and upon approval they join the whanau. The formal approval takes 24 hours and the moderator sends a formal email confirmation with links to the community and its sister community.
Most members know each other well through professional development workshops and other face to face meetings, perhaps that is why so many have not bothered to complete their personal profile. This forum keeps them in frequent digital contact with each other and provides a communal place to share their views and innovations.
The group uses basic Google forum tools and leads are posted under separate titles so that members can quickly respond to the issue of their immediate interest. In my own humble opinions, creating a kind of repeat forum readership is as important as developing a loyal client base for any business. Enticing lurkers to become contributing members is an administrative art in digital sense. Moderators need to apply this notion when managing an ecommunity. the moderator sends reminders or starts subtopics to rekindle discussions. Receiving a personal email message about new topics or posts may be annoying for some but I find it very prompting and it works for me. Busy people at times overlook or simply forget to attend to matters that may only need a couple of clicks. So often a gentle reminder does the trick for me.
Joining an ecommunity brings on the feelings of civic participation. Being a member of an ecommunity has become a norm. It means a lot to many people and eventually makes many become proactive. My own participation with EDTSG has produced a healthy and measurable outcome. Carvin ( 2006) mentions that “ over half of the community members sign in to their ecommunity page every day”. One can only expect some fruitful educational rewards from these interaction. I have been able to aquire PCB making tools and have made business deals with printed circuit boards (PCB) manufacrurers overseas and in New Zealand.I have learned how to make good quality PCBs with minimum equipment.
Conrtibution to the wider community
It is a known fact that change causes resistance and we teachers resist the change a little more than others. George Siemens ( October17 , 2003) reminds us that we must remain relevant and align with the needs of our learners. He even goes a step further by saying that “we need to respond to these changes in a way that meets the learner's needs and that reflects the reality of knowledge required in the workforce”. Similarly in his recent article Paul Left ( 2011) finds that many teachers are slow to participate in online discussions partly due to lack of necessary ICT skills and partly being too busy. He suggests that teachers should upskill themselves and start using social network technologies. He wants them to stay technologically in-phase with their learners. One of the key aspects of the New Zealand Curriculum is to prepare "life long learners". Wenger sees the need of broadening the boundaries of school by saying "the school is not the privileged locus of learning. It is not a self-contained, closed world in which students acquire knowledge to be applied outside, but a part of a broader learning system. The class is not the primary learning event. It is life itself that is the main learning event". I am pretty sure that he is clearly advocating the use of latest technology tools to enhance learning i.e use of ICT in elearning situations. This establishes the need for developing ICT literacy and use of suitable media to propagate learning to suit the learners of this century. EDTSG is paving a way for introducing the this notion of the new curriculum through a negotiation process among the leading practitioners of technology education.
Even though over 30 % of learning is taking place through online ( Industry Report, 2006) , still some people want to know what probes a small group of people to start an ecommunity. Wenger. E., has a very straightforward explanation. "There is an emergent interest in building communities among practitioners ( because) practitioners are seeking peer-peer connection and learning opportunities with or without the support of institutions".
We all know that learning without the support of institution is becoming a norm and a large percentage of 21st century learners fall into that practice.
As Wenger (1998) sets the definition of a learning community “ Communities of practice is groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly”. EDTSG seems to be, unconsciously, in line with his definition.
Online tools and collaboration
EDTSG is constantly looking at providing practical help and suitable resources for level 1 -3. Electronics Technology teachers will then be able to add their own flavor to set up meaningful assessment activities for their learners. In my humble view all members of an ecommunity must gain some valuable information on regular bases. The site has elements of trust, co-dependency , interdependency and a mechanism so that each and every member feels like participating at their level with their own special skills.
One special feature of the forum is the availability of relevant resources to its members in the draft form in its “dropbox”. The " Dropbox" gets updated regularly by the learned members for all to share. At times comments are invted to make the resource more meaningful anfd to meet the assessment criteria set by NZQA.
As Conner (2009) suggests a community can't be forced but it can be fostered.
An environment of timely interconnectedness through sharing knowledge , even in bite sized chunks helps.
Gallagher-Lepak, Reilly and Killon, 2009, expect an educational community to have some shared goals.
Overall Effectiveness in terms of outcome
EDTSG calls itself a support group for electronics educators in NZ .
The moderator has set the main goal and that is to develop senior programmes in electronics within Digital Technologies, using AS as assessment tools.Even though EDTSG has a very small membership and the electronic media being using is just the bare essential , it has made good impact on many teachers. Many resources have been posted and can be used as examplars.
For example making inexpensive Printed Circuit boards and assessment tasks for achievement standards Many teachers of Digital Technology have been pleased with this timely and ongoing support.
Aspects of Community design and its effectiveness
To encourage members for active participation there is a classroom type progress sheet ' top posterer of the month'. Funny but very enticing for members to move up the ladder.
I personally think that smaller groups have some niche educational products and services to offer though I have not seen an argument against this in the literature yet. As a dedicated community moderator , Ross is taping into exciting resources members bring with them. The knowledge kiti is called Dropbox and it works like a pot luck dinner, and he encourages members to add something to share with others.
Key aspects w.r.t people as resources
There is a famous Maori whakatauki ....
Ui mai koe ki ahau he aha te mea nui o te ao, Maku e ki atu he tangata, he tangata, he tangata!
"Ask me what is the greatest thing in the world, I will reply: It is people, it is people, it is people!
...... In other words lest not forget that all people bring strengths to any organisation.
Connor (2009) suggests that it takes more than tools to build community, although tools certainly do help and are required. She goes even a step further that "you need to invest more if you want to see a better return, and if you don’t think you can do better, you might want to reconsider your current role". The EDSTG ecommunity moderator knows the strengths of the members and he is harvesting resources accordingly. This generation of digital technology age is now seriously moving from just using technology towards developing relations and Wenger ( 2001) calls this shift "Belonging and relationships". They are seeking meaningful relationships through belonging to a CoP. Relationships in form of peer relationship, professional connections, an urge to help others and finding a voice are just some of the motives.
I want to finish this assignment with an old American saying "Sonny, when there is more than one of you in your organisation, you are in the people business.You are not in the food business, a service industry, the widget business, the medical profession, or whatever other business you may think you are in - you are in the people business. You just remember that boy!" Reference :
Carvin, A. ( 2006), December1) Understanding the impact of online communities on civic engagement.
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