pete rorabaugh

father | atlantan | cyclist | educator | scholar | union member

Communes and Outposts

Photo courtesy of dayna mason via Flickr and Creative Commons
Photo courtesy of dayna mason via Flickr and Creative Commons

There is an clear tension between individual publishing (like on a blog) and communal publishing (like on a forum, Facebook page, or some other commenting thread). Rather than a tension to avoid, the mutually exclusive benefits of these two activities deserve critical distinction and, sometimes, simultaneous usage.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these distinct authorial activities in my classes this year, but more specifically they pose a central question in my work on #ATLDomain and Project One at Georgia Tech. What are the pedagogical affordances of reflection in communal space (an LMS, G+, Facebook, or a wiki space)? What about in a network of connected single author blogs? What about the alternatives that present themselves in the space between these two poles – Twitter chats, syndicated blogs in a central location, or group authored sites?

In my work on Georgia Tech’s Project One we spent our first two weeks deciding whether to build the digital experience exclusively in Mahara (a single author platform designed for portfolio construction) or to combine Mahara with a communal space like Instructure’s Canvas. I felt pretty strongly that we needed a central place where participants could interact together before they were thrown to the wilderness of self-publishing. It CAN be a wilderness. It’s easy to forget that the largest, most famous connectivist MOOCs are full of educators and autodidacts who want to build networks. How easily, we keep asking ourselves, does this translate to a more traditional learner? How does it (or can it) transform her?

In my ENGL1102 class (Our Hybrid Selves) this semester, I experimented with a Google+ Community to substitute for an LMS, expecting that it would encourage more interactivity (which it did). The problem was that discrete posts (from me with readings, from students with reflections, reading suggestions, etc.) got buried and unmanageable pretty quickly. It taught us that G+ Communities have a pretty useful search function meaning that posts can use hashtags for aggregation. Ultimately, though, I shifted back to the separate WordPress site that housed syllabus to communicate readings and activities.

Ultimately our team went with a negotiated settlement: use of Mahara (for participant publishing and engagement) along with a public facing blog to communicate formal components of the experience. These questions don’t have cookie-cutter answers, though. In the Domain 101 faculty development course that David Morgen and Dave Fisher have built at Emory this summer, they’re using Canvas, and I think that’s the right choice.

These are the poles: communal, interactive space vs. individual outposts that are tied together (with RSS feeds or other methods). The critical space between them is on mind lately.

3 responses to “Communes and Outposts”

  1. […] dedicated conference?  Last week I wrote about the many faces of domains, and Clay Fenlason and Pete Rorabaugh have been on a blogging tear in the wake of the incubator. Whereas I still haven’t blogged […]

  2. Maha Bali Avatar

    Hey Pete, what an interesting post! I have been experimenting with the idea of distributed participant-managed spaces instead of LMS and wondering why it wasn’t working out as well as I had anticipated — your post made me realize it might be because students never got the hang of using Twitter hashtag as the shared social space… and maybe I should have used something they were more familiar with like facebook or g+ – but as you say, no cookie cutter answers to this, it will vary by context and I daresay by cohort as well!

    Now here’s a question I’d love to hear feedback on. We’re developing a blended learning faculty development course (that will also be delivered in a blended format). We need to use Bb as the institutional platform, but hoping to also have participants blog their reflections. I wanted to (in 4 weeks) also incorporate social media like fb, g+ or twitter (because i think these will work well for our undergrad and also grad students) – buuuut i don’t want to overwhelm faculty with too many options (but knowing also that each of them might benefit pedagogically from diff platforms for diff purposes later). I also remember how i was initially reluctant to use fb for a MOOC group, but how great it turned out in the end… I now prefer it to discussion forums… Hmmm… Maybe give the faculty a choice between platforms and use the one the majority prefer? Does anyone have experience with faculty and know which of these spaces they’re most likely to be comfy with for prof dev not socialization? (And again, I guess our own group might have diff preferences!)

    1. Pete Rorabaugh Avatar
      Pete Rorabaugh

      Thanks for the reflections on my post. I’ve shifted to this new blog to really work out the granular challenges and successes of the work I am doing with ATLDomain, Project One, my own classes, and critical/digital pedagogy writ large. I’ve learned a lot by watching Jim Groom blog things in the idea stage. It’s good getting feedback that my “in process” thinking is useful to you — probably because many of us are in the process of doing similar things.

      As to your questions about faculty dev: these are important because they reveal the overarching meta-levels that pedagogy takes on with serious practitioners. Obv., as you say, every community is different. I worry about throwing more than three separate platforms that I’m expecting heavy use on, whether it’s faculty or students. This semester, in my Our Hybrid Selves class ( I used G+ (nearly as an LMS), a blog, and lots of Gdocs. Use of Twitter and other platforms for curious suffered a bit.

      I think that whatever you can do to get out of the Bb system (with links, activities, scavenger hunts, Twitter chats, etc.) will be good and, actually, easy to do. Whether we’re dealing with a relatively closed LMF like Bb or a relatively open one (like Canvas; have you looked at that yet?), these walls should be perforated at least, porous at best. Ultimately it will depend on a) how long you have these folks for (duration and frequency) and b) the connectivist buy-in each of the participants already has.

      As I’ve written and presented many other places, we need to be teaching methods (of connectivity, of research, of composition, of citation, of collaboration) NOT tools. I can tell that you’re already thinking about this with respect to other work that you’ve done. My advice would be to foreground that kind of thing — run an activity that requires connectivity, reflect on its whys and hows, and immediately push the group into another, different experience that requires adaptation of that same method. Some people call it scaffolding, but I tend to think about it (digitally) as links in a chain or keys that allow us to “level-up.”

      Not a bunch of granular advice here, but hopefully some methodological help. I’m working on something similar with David Morgen in his Domain 101 project this summer.

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