Sunday, September 29, 2013

Communities

I decided to take the rest of the week since our session with Dr. Schwier to watch my world in a reflective light clearly focused on the theme of community. It's been an interesting and busy week and as I write it all down now, I realize just how much community means to me but also how diverse and varied the communities that surround me and include me are. As I work on my project to build a digital learning community that functions as an out of class enhancement to the work my students do during our sessions at school I am further inspired to embrace the challenges that present themselves in the nurturing of a fledgling group of interactive learners.

Starting with Dr. Schwier's introspective and thoughtful ruminations on community, I began to reflect on the past couple of years I have spent becoming a part of the Education Technology and Design or ETAD Master's of Education community at the U of S. This community is not confined by the borders of an institution in Saskatoon, but rather is open to a world of interesting and diverse people that find the use of technology in learning to be a fascinating and challenging world. These people have been paramount in the formation of my identity as a learner in a greater realm. This wasn't an easy transition. In the beginning we found ourselves to be taking classes in from people that spoke from great distance. We got to know each other as two dimensional moving pictures on screens with voices that would cut in and out and speed up on a catch up sequence that made us often sound like chipmunks on helium. We worked in strange spaces like discussion boards and shared documents, often collaborating asynchronously achieving common goals and sharing our thoughts and knowledge with people we had never met face to face. When I had the chance to meet many of my colleagues during a presentation in at the U of S and again at our ETAD Studio this past July I was taken by how three-dimensional everyone looked... a strange revelation indeed. But we were all bound together by a familiarity. As of last semester I've had new challenges presented to me that made it difficult to be positive about my place in education. But this community of ETAD helped me regain my passion and resolve and nudged me back onto the tracks. Dr. Schwier, Dr. Wilson and Dr. Morisson are all part of a fantastic team of caring and creative individuals that have grown a community that I am fortunate to be included in. EC&I 831 seems to be a natural extension of the ideals that make the program at the U of S so strong. I can see us quickly becoming something more that our parts and it feels it has only just begun.

I've lived in a few places in my life; Shellbrook, France, Montreal, Regina, Quebec City, Saskatoon, Shellbrook, Japan, Malaysia, Shellbrook, Nipawin, and Regina. Funny how some of those places repeat themselves. My home town as you may have guessed is Shellbrook. I've been a part of groups of people doing some amazing things in all of these places. If I wrote about all of those experiences here... we'd have one long read for you on our hands! I was at one high school for the past eight years here in Regina and now am at another, feeling like a new guy once again. There are new students, new colleagues and new duties. Each class has it's own social dynamic and for one hour each week day a group of about 30 people try to find their way with each other. In a large school like the one I'm presently at, not everyone in the room knows each other when they first arrive. Developing a positive dynamic in a classroom is a delicate task. I've had my ups and downs over the years trying to make things work. Most of my time is spent working with students these days. They come with a variety of ability and skill both academically and socially. I've begun to introduce them to using social media tools to express themselves and interact outside of the classroom. I'm excited to see what this project will become as I try to mirror a bit of what is happening in EC&I 831 with my own students. We are using Blogger and Twitter as well as other web-based applications to grow an environment of sharing and encouragement in our visual arts classes, my home room and our outdoor education club. I've spent a lot of time developing a positive relationship with students that I hope will translate into a positive and interactive experience for them online. My vision of success in this project would be to see students interacting with each other, sharing ideas and content without being prompted by the guidelines of an assignment.

Outside of my work at a public there is of course my little family comprised of my wife, my daughter and myself and two cats. There are also my friends, my volunteer association colleagues, my cultural community association people and the neighbours in the area I live in. I teach a sessional at the U of R and am in a master's degree. There is also the Twitter-verse, Google + communities and Facebook. These communities all blend together to form and influence me. I too play a role in supporting and influencing them. It's really incredible to think that one individual today is a part of many overlapping spheres of influence through not only their endeavours in real time but also through the connective electrical tissues of the internet. I hope to become a positive contributor to my online communities. I hope that I will have something interesting to share as I have learned so much from the sharing of others over the years. I'm hopeful too that my students will find a rewarding presence in their learning community both face to face and online.

If you made it this far I'd like to thank you for reading. If you have any advice or experiences to share on the topic of online learning communities, perhaps some success and challenges you've encountered I'd like to hear about them.

Thanks again for reading,

Jason Grayston






4 comments:

  1. Very interesting post! Amazing how when I was a child, my community was strictly my neighborhood and such. Now, my community is international, thanks to the internet! I am trying to spend more time developing a PLN online so that I can expand my knowledge base.

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  2. So true. How fast will the human experience develop now that we are so connected? I wonder what I would have marvelled at or what I would have become if I had been so connected to others as a kid in school.

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  3. Re: "We worked in strange spaces like discussion boards and shared documents"

    In my first foray into online learning (ETAD as well), I felt like I was in a "strange" new world. Fortunately, it didn't take too long to start to feel like part of a community thanks to some great facilitation by the online instructors. I was so curious about how to create a sense of community online that I even wrote a paper on it! Of course, Rick's book also became a valuable guide. Creating that sense of community is a shared responsibility between instructors and participants.

    By the end of my Master's journey, the feeling of "strangeness" in the online space has been replaced by the sense of "comfort" in it. And now I enjoy meeting people through their ideas/thinking long before I meet them face to face :)

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on community!

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  4. Thanks for the great post about community. I, like you, are part of many different communities-church, friends, work, family but these are mostly in person not online communities. I really didn't have an online community that I was active in prior to this class other than the odd Facebook post, sharing Google docs and Skype conversations with colleagues but not real discussions or discourse online. I guess I was content to just live a private live outside of the online world. After this course I will see if this online discourse continues or dies off.

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