Preliminary statements about our success (such as it may be) arise from sessions presented at ALT-C on International social learning networks in education, the Emerge Special Interest Group and "What gives life to our community? An appreciative inquiry-based approach for studying the emergence of a community in Web 2.0 learning applications."
For a community to be successful there is a need for members to have something in common. We have shared interests: education, learning technology, chasing project funding, gadgets, learners, and learning, for example. Or there might be something bigger at stake: the future of education – or the maybe world itself. Whatever they may be, experiences, goals or interests need to be shared This is why we chose a social networking approach and a platform based on Elgg.
But, communities have a “life” beyond that of the individuals in them. A viable community has members at different stages, who develop and change. The community is heterogeneous in respect to experience, roles and engagement. Some “lurk-and-learn” while others proselytise; there are newbies and old-hands, bloggers and Second Lifers. So while we are similar, we are also different: heterogeneous similarity.
There are many kinds of communities: intentional communities, communities of practice, purpose, action and circumstance. Emerge, and the JISC, and the Users and Innovation strand have characteristics of some, but not necessarily all of these. There are purposes, circumstances and careers that circumscribe us. There are boundaries to our cohesion. But, for a community to be successful there needs to be openness, too. This has to be valued and modelled by old hands, making public individual contributions, identifying newcomers and welcoming them. It is important that others outside the community acknowledge the work that is going on within it. As we have seen a need for heterogeneous similarity, I might summarise this in the same oxymoronic way: bounded openness.
But the project is no more, or less, open than is the norm in British higher education. A more significant question might be: to what extent does the project reflect the cosmopolitan demographics of its wider context? To what extent are our development education interests served by the project? Where do we draw the boundaries?
(a print version in Word is here)