Virtual communities as a canvas of Educational Reform

Some recent online reads have prompted me to write about learning within our ‘shape-shifting’ technologically driven world. If you are new to blogs and online tools, let me tell you that there is a lot happening – but don’t let that put you off getting involved.

There are many different perspectives to put on online social networking and it is important to know where one is coming from when talking about social networking and youth. The perspective(s) one has will be very different whether one is a parent with a teenage daughter on MySpace, a marketing executive interested in the target group “14 to 20,” a journalist looking for the next big news story on young people and new media, a youngster using a social networking site as part of everyday life or a researcher investigating how young people are using social networking sites.

35Perspectives on Online Social Networking provides a different (broader) exposition of online networking. Here we have an excellent overview that helps me to see the matrix of inter-relationships between sectors or groups. That, after all, is what our real world is – and online virtual interactions are no different. Don’t let me forget that.

So that was what WOW2 was a bit about – educators in one countryexploring education ‘downunder’. I have to thank the WOW2 team for the fabulous opportunity to take part in the WOW2 EdTechTalk recently. It was pretty cool chatting to my aussie mates Graham Wegner and Jo McLeay. But I also ‘met’ Jason Hando, who (rather surprisingly) is in Sydney, doing great things as well. No excuses for us not keeping in touch are there?

Actually I think that what Sheryl wrote in Virtual Communities as a Canvas of Educational Reform is a ‘must read’ for school leadership teams working on capacity building and educational reform. She says:

The way I see it, social networking tools have the potential to bring enormous leverage to teachers at relatively little cost — intellectual leverage, social leverage, media leverage, and most important, political leverage. And while most of us reading this post can name educators across the globe that are using these tools as windows from their classrooms to share ideas and develop their own personal learning environments, the sad truth is that most aren’t. The burning question in most of our minds is how can we accelerate the adoption and full integration of 21st Century teaching and learning strategies in schools today?

Creating virtual communities that function effectively within and beyond our schools IS a significant challenge.

Our system of schools has been actively exploring these options in 2007 (fabulous!) – and we are definitely learning from the experience. We began the year by formally launching a blogging strategy. Unfortunately we didn’t address some of the important questions that Sheryll raised, and as a result our first effort at system-wide blogging ‘came a cropper’. Well, not totally, but it was no surprise really as some of the vital ingredients of social collaboration were missed starting with the first important point – who is blogging and why?

The best blogs are social – and we missed that point – and are platforms where discussion blooms. Blogs in this context of collaboration can’t be the stuff of soapbox but must be the stuff of open-ended conversation – and that means writing as well as commenting.

I like the fact that we continue to try to figure out what sort of virtual communities will work for us. We’re game for the challenge, and won’t let disappointment stop us from pursuing educational innovation and reform.

Now we have a new strategy to experiment with. The start of Term 3 saw the official launch of the ‘Learning Common’ blog – open to all teachers to write, comment, collaborate, and share the ups and downs of teaching life. We have merged a number of blogs into one, and opened up the option to be a writer to anyone in any school. Will this work?

Richard McManus covers some important things about blogging within the context of virtual communities asking Is Blogging Dead? Gosh, we are just starting with blogging, so I don’t think our teachers will be abandoning our new blog for something else. But, Richard says

It’s hard to get discussions going on a blog, but the blogs that at least attempt it and actually write for their readers — these blogs are the most compelling in my view.

I agree that this is at the heart of the matter. Let’s hope we can make the blog compelling reading – a place that people really want to be to share their ideas. So let’s see what happens. We’re pretty keen on blogging, and many of us blog!!!

We just haven’t cracked the whole virtual community thing yet, but I think we’ll get there.

It’s all about spheres of influence. This graphic says a lot, and is easily adapted to provide us the guidelines for successful blogging – that builds capacity as part of our educational reform!

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