SBL 2010: “Community” in Online Learning

My presentation proposal for the 2010 annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature has been accepted. The paper is, “To Those Far and Near”: The Case for “Community” at a Distance. The session is about Web 2.0 tools in teaching and learning, and is offered by the section, Academic Teaching and Biblical Studies.

I will share an abstract and my plans for the presentation later on. Briefly, what prompts me to choose this topic is my frustration that many educators who are unfamiliar with online learning will pronounce authoritatively that “real” or “authentic” community only happens face to face. It would be fine if this position were adopted as the conclusion of an argument befitting the holder of a research degree. However, the impossibility of “online community” is too frequently asserted as a non sequitur, without investigation into the fifteen-odd years of data at our disposal. Humanities educators may presume without inquiry that distance learning is limited to a static mode of knowledge-distribution. Among Christian theological educators, one commonly hears discussion-closing, preemptive appeals to “embodiment” and “incarnation.”

My presentation will offer a paper that takes the data—student evaluations, scores on collaborative assignments, teacher testimonials, independent surveys—into account. I may look also make note of online communities not relating to distance education. Ideally, the paper will focus on courses that traditionally depend on the creation of community toward the end of moving and changing student participants. Ideally, the paper will be offered asynchronously so that the presentation itself will involve a real-time community-building activity.

Are you skeptical of the possibility of online “community”? If so, what are the grounds of your skepticism, and what sort of evidence for online “community” might you (in principle) take seriously?

Do you already experience “community” among folks who have not met face to face? If so, where and how do you experience it?

[SBL 2010: “Community” in Online Learning was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/04/02. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

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2 Responses

  1. I took an online class at LSTC in Chicago (on Islam). I learned a lot through the reading but learned very little by interacting with the other students online. I would be happy to share more with you if you’re interested.

    online social media is the wave of the future, ala twitter/facebook. Wondering how those will affect online learning. I would be very interested in the paper. Congrats on it’s acceptance and good luck with the project!

  2. I recently led a young adult group that met weekly in person and throughout the week at my blog http://www.barlowthompson.net/youngadult. The traffic was pretty consistent and pretty engaging, but what made it work was the threat of follow up when we were in person.

    Also, the most reliable contributors were folks already are akin to social media. Maybe you could prerequisite a facebook, twitter, and blog account. If your class was made up of people already producing internet content I would wager far more success.

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