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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.

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