Building an online community: a critique.

Show and Tell event:
Staff in the School of Education.

Mike Sharples:
We set up, right from the beginning, an intranet, using a SharePoint server, that provided, for each project, a space where you could develop the project through gathering in material that was useful to it, and also having a blog that acted as both a, kind of personal and group diary of how the project was progressing, and also a way of publicising it to other people, sharing ideas.

Richard Pemberton:
I think it was a really useful, kind of, storage mechanism. I mean, even now, if I go - if I need to find something that we’ve said about the projects, I would go to the blog site first.

Do Coyle:
We wanted that to be a, sort of, a digital repository, so that other - we could look what other people were doing, and so on. That, I think, had - that had mixed success, because, again, those people who enjoy and are comfortable using something like SharePoint, were prepared to put their materials up.

However, those people who’d never used SharePoint before were much more concerned about putting up reports, concerns, where they didn’t think their particular project was succeeding.

Matthew Nilan:
People weren’t, you know, entirely happy with the idea of using a blog in the way that we might think about it, as being a very, sort of, personal reflective space about what you’re doing, and the difficulties and so on.

I think people felt it was too public, and they felt it might be an area where they might be judged on their performance. I don’t think people naturally felt that was the way in which they could most openly talk about what they were doing.

Jane Evison:
It’s the permanency of it. If you’re, if you’re going to be posting something, okay, you can edit it, but it’s there, and it’s there for people to unpick, whereas discussing something, sharing your feelings, maybe admitting more failure, or more concerns, or more - it’s much better to do that face-to-face.

I think there are a number of reasons why face-to-face contact works better than putting your ideas onto a blog. I mean, first, it’s very informal. You can sound off about your problems, issues, frustrations, in a way that you can’t when you’ve got to sit down in front of a screen on your own and try and be reflective.

So, you’ve got a conversational partner when you meet in the corridor you can, you know, have a discussion. In a blog, you’re kind of, putting your thoughts and ideas into the void, and hoping that other people are going to take them up. So it’s a more formal process.

Also, the concept of a blog is a bit ambiguous. You know what is a blog? Is it your own personal diary, your own personal expression? Well no, not quite, because other people are reading it. Is it a news feed? Well no, because it’s not talking about objective facts. It’s talking about your own impressions.

So it’s a new kind of medium where it’s part personal, part objective, part news, part reflections, and I think people - were and still are, a bit uncomfortable about how you use a blog, and also, you know, what its purpose is, whether you should invest time in it, and, you know, I’m not surprised that people were, and still are, feeling uncomfortable about it.

Brett Bligh:
The whole point of this project is to encourage people who are not necessarily familiar, or comfortable, or confident with e-learning tools and online tools in general, and we were trying to encourage them. And maybe, by introducing another online tool that they had to learn, that’s not necessarily encouraging.

Rolf Wiesemes:
I think it might be related to having another electronic thing to do, like email. There’s so many of them these days, and so many things you have to constantly catch up with, with electronic resources, and there’s no - I would still say there’s no real dialogue, at least, to my, sort of, in my thinking, in posting messages on the web.

Gordon Joyes:
We’re busy professionals, so you would have thought that, perhaps, the blog might have been quite handy to just update yourself, but I think we were using it in two ways. We were using it as a monitoring thing, to, you know, and also as a community building thing, and maybe that’s one of the reasons why it doesn’t work as well.

Imposing a top-down solution, I think that was maybe one of the problems. That was one area where there was imposed a top-down solution. You will all use SharePoint and this blog.

I felt it was something that was was slightly imposed on me, whereas having the dialogue in the corridor was something that I could choose to do. So it gave - well, I can say it was partly about my autonomy and my freedom, in terms of running the project, or handling the project, and managing the project in ways that I thought were best for me.

In conversation with: Brett Bligh, Do Coyle, Jane Evison, Gordon Joyes, Matthew Nilan, Richard Pemberton, Mike Sharples, Rolf Wiesemes (School of Education).

Produced: June 2008
Duration: 5 minutes : 25 seconds

Videos produced in collaboration with the University's Promoting Enhanced Student Learning (PESL) initiative.

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Dr Rachel Scudamore

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