Rethinking Learning
conversations about the future of teaching and learning
Barbara Bray
be creative, innovate, take risks, unlearn to learn
Oakland, CA

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What's really a Community?
By Barbara Bray    January 3, 2007 -- 10:27 PM

Social networks encourage people to find others via tags. What do most people do when they find others? FaceBook lets you build a list of friends. Some teens have over 800 friends listed. Are these friends that they can call on, collaborate with, share stories a real community?

There are so many cool Web 2.0 tools that let you do neat things: Digg a news article and see it go to the top of the list; view and share videos on YouTube - why watch TV anymore? - you can even embed the videos on your blog; Bloglines lets you keep tabs on any changes on other blogs. Are you thinking what Iím thinking? Thereís too much. I cannot keep up with everything. They are pretty neat and do enjoy using them for myself.

I found some cool tools like Stumble Upon - that lets me stumble upon websites based on my interests. This isnít a community -itís a new kind of search engine. I can share or email a new site I stumble upon. Thatís cool! If I share some great sites with you, are you part of my community?

Google Alert lets you put in tags with your gmail account. Each day Google emails you websites or blogs based on your tag. I really like this but donít have enough time to read it all. Whew! If I read and comment on your blog, am I part of your community?

Okay- these are cool tools but not sure if I would call the people using them a community. What would you define as an online community? Two definitions:

  • A community is a set of people (or agents in a more abstract sense) with some shared element ó in particular a group of people who live in the same area is a community. The substance of shared element varies widely, from a situation to interest to lives and values. The term is widely used to evoke sense of collectivism.

  • The aggregate of persons with common characteristics such as geographic, professional, cultural, racial, religious, or socioeconomic similarities. Communities can be defined by location, race, ethnicity, age, occupation, interest in particular problems or outcomes, or other common bonds. [Source]
Online Communities as defined by:
  • While the entire global Internet is one online community the term is more specifically applied to particular interest groups, trades, cultural genres and local neighborhoods. For instance the "online arts community" refers to web sites and surfers in the arts. The Internet is experiencing its most recent growth in actual physical neighborhoods going online from community groups to shopping. In reality there are hundreds of thousands of online communities on the web.

  • A virtual community is a group whose members are connected by means of information technologies, typically the Internet. Similar terms include online community and mediated community.

So according to these definitions, just because you are a member of a neighborhood, social group, etc., this makes you a member of the community. Some questions:
  1. How do you keep a community viable if the members do not participate?
  2. Just because there are hundreds of members in this group, is this a viable online community?
  3. Do you need a facilitator or guide to encourage participation?
  4. Do you need a leader for a community or do you see communities happen without anyone taking the lead?
  5. What do you think you need to start and sustain a community?

Categories: "Collaboration" "Community"

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Comments: Add New Comments
By small Sheri Barker      February 9, 2007 -- 08:49 AM
Rick DuFour and company just started a new website for Professional Learning Community tools, resources, and powerful examples of successful schools.  You will find it at

Mt. Carmel High School in San Diego County was just added to the list.  Their data and resources haven't been completed yet, but it is certainly a success story to watch.

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