15 August 2008

Weeks 2 & 3

The meaning of an online community and its uses

For the purpose of this paper, I intend to apply my thoughts and experiences to my current involvement - the myLearn Project 2008 which commenced 28 July 2008.

Background of this online community

The Tertiary Accord of New Zealand (TANZ) is a network of six (of 19) ITPs (Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics of New Zealand). Its members comprise:
  • NorthTec (Northland);
  • UCOL (Palmerston North);
  • EIT (Hawkes Bay);
  • NMIT (Nelson, Marlborough);
  • CPIT (Christchurch);
  • Otago Polytechnic (Dunedin).
The vision of TANZ is to be the leader in collaborative applied vocational education and training. The mission/purpose of TANZ is to work collaboratively as an Accord to identify, design, develop, deliver and evaluate applied vocational quality products for tertiary learners. TANZ has a strong focus and commitment to a sectoral leadership ‘by doing’ role.

myLearn pilot project: purpose

The myLearn pilot project is using Moodle, by virtual connection (from Otago Polytechnic) to create a networked process for distributing seamlessly, six New Zealand Diploma in Business (NZDB) Level 5 papers, materials and information, assessments and combining class spaces for learners and online tutors. Each of the six TANZ partners delivers one NZDB paper each. Students enrol at any one of the six TANZ polytechnics or institutions (within their local region) into any one of the six NZDB papers. A student logs on through Moodle from their enrolling institution or polytechnic. They connect to Otago Polytechnic’s Moodle site, and then may be ‘redirected’ to the polytechnic or institute that is delivering the paper they have enrolled in.

This pilot project is an example of finding a way to address the changing Government policy requirements where institutions can only enrol students from their own region. Incentives to find ways to work more collaboratively are encouraged.

Identifying features

Using Moodle LMS the aim of the myLearn project is to create a networked process for distributing NZDB papers and resources across multiple providers (currently the 6 TANZ members) to simultaneously provide appropriate staff support for eLearning capability developing. The project is currently focused on:
  • people and processes rather than further infrastructure;

  • finding ways to reduce the current administrative burden and improving eLearning programme content, learning resources, activities and assessment across multiple providers by updating the process from a single centralised source;

  • providing knowledge management of the learnings generated from this project from learners, and all those involved in the delivery of this pilot programme;

  • identifying ways to enable, support and maintain communities of practice that focus on workplace-based elearning, support the development of excellence in eLearning practices and raise the capability in eLearning best practice.

Within the TANZ Network Support Moodle site, two (main) Network Support Communities of Practice have been set up for this project:
  1. myLearn Pilot - NZ Diploma in Business - available to TANZ members to discuss the collaborative development of the myLearn Pilot - NZ Diploma in Business.

    Topics include: General, Operational issues, Technical and Moodle administration, eLearning advisors, Steering committee, Libraries, Elluminate sessions.

  2. myLearn NZDipBus - Tutor & Action Research Site. Available to myLearn pilot members for discussing and developing resources for the NZDipBus online courses & action research involvement.

    Topics include: Course facilitation issues; myLearn NZDB practitioner Action Research site.
Each community contains a number of sub-committees(?) containing essential documentation for collaborative use, as well as Discussion Forums and Wikis.

What’s made it a successful community so far?
  1. It existing for a reason – there’s a clear identity and understanding why the COP exists.

  2. It's been positive, simple, safe, supportive, where knowledge is being developed at the core level.

  3. It's relevantly applied by being attuned to real practices (in the sense the myLearn Project networked support is also using Moodle as the communication platform).

  4. Is like-minded in purpose for the 6 TANZ partners involved in delivery of the 6 NZDB papers which has (and will) draw other users in as the initiative grows.

  5. Has a retained knowledge of shared history and culture (for support, reflection and reference - e.g. for action research; for newbies coming on board).

  6. There’s an audience - synchronously (using Elluminate) and asynchronously (using Discussion Forums and Wikis) as well as the assigning of editing rights that promotes negotiable strategies and fine tuning of processes, internally and externally.

This Project is providing an environment by creating an online community of practice that offers the opportunity for those involved in eLearning to demonstrate and involve F2F staff in more flexible modes of delivery that engages them in an applied sense – as part of ‘their’ changing environment for planning, preparation, not just facilitation of online learning – by seeking first to understand and experience this form of communication. My current focus is to support current F2F NZDB tutors as they move to becoming effective Online Tutors - by gaining experience from a learner's perspective using Discussion Forums, Wikis, Blogs, Chat Rooms, Skype, RSS Feeds and then to encourage and support them to creating a collaborative online learning environment for their students. All staff I am working with are from the Baby Boomers Generation :-) (no Gen X or Y ...) :-(

It is providing the opportunity for those new to online tutoring and online communication to step up and step into roles that this project is providing as well as the shared sense of the value of being together that has and will evolved through this project, formally and informally, with shared responsibilities.

Sherman states:
"The bottom line: online community building is about the people first, the shared interests or experiences next, and the tools are the means of bringing people together in new ways."
I agree. The ongoing adventures for me is the continual seeking to understand before finding value in ways to apply that knowledge.


O'Reilly Media. (2007). Building online communities. Retrieved August 8, 2008 from http://www.oreillynet.com

Sherman, A. (2008). Building online community brick by virtual brick. Retrieved August 8, 2008 from http://webworkerdaily.com.2008/04/27

Wikipedia. (n.d.). Virtual community. Retrieved August 10, 2008, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Online_community

1 comment:

Leigh Blackall said...

Hi Kay, I wish I could see this community? Is there a link? I think this may be the first I have heard about this project, and considering I work in Educational Development at Otago Polytechnic, this is not a good sign for everyone I reckon.

Admittedly, my work focuses on the development of Open Educational Resources (OER), and because of the desire to be open and accessible, we tend not to use LMS. As you know, we (being the OER practitioners at Otago Polytechnic) collaborate internationally on platforms such as Wikieducator to develop educational resources. Through Wikieducator (and other platforms like Wikipedia and Youtube for eg) we can access very large and very small communities of practice that help us develop skills and understanding around education generally, and with our projects and our students specifically. (Note the FOC course and its participating CoP for example)

I have called a meeting next Tuesday between a wide range of professionals with interest in teaching business, to discuss the development of a short course in Small Business Management. It is the intention of the programme manager who is leading this development to develop the course on Wikieducator, as well as media and resources on popular platforms like Youtube and Slideshare (to name a few). Naturally our work will be licensed Creative Commons Attribution, so TANZ will be welcome to copy and adapt any of it, but it would be wonderful to see TANZ collaborating with us somehow, especially considering that our approach seems to fit the TANZ brief quite effectively and that we can bring to your development quite an extensive resource network (but it might require a shift in thinking by TANZ)...

But back to the course.. I wonder if you can show us these online communities in Moodle? I would be very interested to hear how you went about setting them up and what measures you use to determine their success? I also wonder if you went through a process of assessing the existing communities of practice - such as those on Wikieducator for example, are any others that may be functioning now...