Participate 1.1.3 Ideal Digital Learning Community Quest
Every individual will have a different sense of an ideal digital learning community, and every situation will alter that ideal slightly. Therefore, my ideal DLC and its components come with personal bias. My last post explored some of these personal biases, but added to them is also my background as a public middle school teacher. I believe the key components of a successful DLC are chemistry among its participants, momentum, and accountability. To achieve these, the instructor should follow several steps to address each.
One might assume that content is more important than chemistry in a DLC, but I argue that they are indeed equally important. This might seem counterintuitive, but content is cheap now in the digital age of ebooks, free streaming videos, and easy access to experts in research fields through email, blogs, and social media. Good chemistry will fuel discussions and motivate students to work hard to learn and apply the content and skills. The reason to commit to a DLC is the chemistry among participants and between participants and the instructor.
To encourage a productive, creative, and fun chemistry, the instructor needs to create a framework that lets students express their passions and work. An icebreaker early in the course provides an open, sharing environment, and the form and content of the icebreaker should match the students’ needs and the course’s material. Shortly after the icebreaker, the instructor should inspire participants to form creative pairs or groups. These groups could reinforce accountability in the DLC by meeting in person, completing projects, or becoming experts in a subtopic of the course, just to name a few methods.
Similarly, the instructor should quickly bond with the class by asking for feedback and providing student choice. Early in the class, the instructor should earn students’ trust by participating in the icebreaker. The instructor should collaborate with students when establishing discussion board norms.
By giving students choice in the frequency and content of posts and replies on the discussion boards, students will feel that their voice matters and is heard. Good chemistry early in the class will keep the momentum going and increase accountability.
Good chemistry and established discussion board norms will help keep momentum going, but the instructor should also plan other incentives and activities to keep students motivated and active within the community. In addition to the DLC, the instructor should use social media to share the best student work and brag about the projects.
The instructor could then incorporate competition by asking students to vote on the best weekly posts or the most helpful insights. Routine reflection and goal setting will help students monitor their own effort within the class. Finally, the instructor should regularly email updates and reminders as well as participate on the discussion boards.
Finally, the instructor should create systems of accountability not limited to an individual’s accountability to the instructor. As mentioned before, group projects hold students accountable to each other, but an instructor might also use a pen-pal system, where pairs of students are responsible for checking in with each other.
Discussion boards, posts, and responses can sometimes be dominated by one or two individuals, allowing other participants and their work go unnoticed. With a buddy system in place, this would be less likely. The more accountable the students are to each other, the more likely that they will be active producers and consumers as well as respectful digital citizens.
Naturally, the instructor should strive to find content, resources, tools, and activities that meet students at their level and push them to grow as learners and digital citizens. Yet, even the most interesting DLC can lose its effectiveness and allure if the community is not strong. Therefore it is most important for the instructor to plan for creating chemistry, momentum, and accountability within the community.