Chelsi's Educational Musings

Thoughts Regarding Community

Posted on: September 29, 2011

I feel like I must begin this post with a disclaimer.  This won’t be the most articulate of posts.  It has been a long day at work (but a good day) and this is more of a free-thought, stream-of-consciousness kind of post regarding what I have been thinking about after last night’s class.  My EC&I 831 class was lucky enough to listen to guest speaker Dr. Richard Schwier last night live from Saskatoon.  It still fascinates me that guest speakers can video-conference now!  I know, this has been a practice in effect for a number of years, but being a MOOC virgin, that was my first time having a guest speaker in a class via a web conference!  I can’t imagine how much money is saved nowadays with the use of web-conferencing rather than flying a guest speaker out to speak to each class.  What a great time that we live in!

If you have not heard of Dr. Schwier, do yourself a favour and check out his blog.  I read through several posts before his presentation, and his has some very interesting ideas.  Last night, he talked to us about the concept of community, and how that applies to real life AND online communities.  I still can’t get over the idea that in our OWN class community, over fifty people from around the world tuned in simultaneously to listen to the presentation!  Not only that, it is so neat to see the exchange of ideas that happen while the presentation is in effect!  The power of a MOOC was demonstrated last night as we weren’t merely given information – we, people from all over the globe, were contributing ideas, asking questions, providing links, and exchanging information throughout the evening.  It was even more amazing when we were discussing Alan Levine’s blog, Alec tweeted about it, he received the tweet, and then joined the conversation!  I feel like maybe one day this will be a common, everyday occurrence when taking a class, but for me right now, it all seems so new and awesome!

Dr. Schwier talked about society’s need to connect.  Since the dawn of time, people have found ways to create groups, or communities, to fulfill this need.  In our day and age, this connection has spread to the web, where online communities are found.  There is no longer a question of whether people are able to connect online, but HOW they connect is what Dr. Schwier discussed with our class.  He explained that the way we know that a community has been formed is through its features:  authenticity, many-facets, boundaries, intimacy, mortality, size, trajectory, intensity, trust, context, and participation.  (To understand more about each feature, I’ve included my notes that I took during the presentation.  Many are quotations and statements made by Dr. Schwier, so if you would like to use the notes for anything, feel free, but please credit him.  He also has a free ebook found here.)  We discussed how communities are either  formal (organized by an external party and operated like a class), non-formal (people are offered a course, but there is no evaluation, such as a professional-development session), and informal (something invented and organized by the people INVOLVED in it).  Through his research, Dr. Schwier found that the most successful communities are the formal, where people are forced together but usually work together long enough to build communities; informal communities were equally successful, as members’ passion and intensity for a subject is the basis of their community, but they build other bonds outside of this basis.  I began to think about all of the communities that I am apart of.  I have my family, my friends (which can be split into communities of elementary school friends, high school friends, university friends, and husband’s friends), my coworkers, my classroom, and now my EC&I 831 class as it begins to develop into a community.  I thought of examples of formal and informal communities as well, and two examples came to mind immediately.  One of the Masters classes that I took last year was Group Counselling.  As a member of this class about how to be a counsellor, we were all essentially a part of a group weekly counselling session run by our prof.  This was a formal community, as the ten members of the class met once a week, and we had not known each other previously.  Throughout the semester, I saw many, if not all, of Dr. Schwier’s features of a community develop.  Our group became close, and although I did not know the members before the class, I found myself thinking about them often and wondering how their week was going.  I got to know more about them than I knew about some of my coworkers whom I saw every day!  When the class ended, everyone was quite sad to go their separate ways, and a few of us are still friends to this day.  I did witness the feature of mortality, however, as after the class ended, the intensity of it was no longer there, and we did not all keep in touch as we did when the class was in session.

The second community that I remembered was an informal community.  When I was in my first year of university in 2001, chatrooms and message boards were all the rage.  Being a huge fan of the Beatles and having a group of friends who were only into modern music, I searched for a message board about The Beatles so that I could discuss their music with others.  I found a message board with thousands of members and a plethora of comment threads.  Eventually, I started posting and replying to posts with a few girls my age.  It was so neat to have modern-day online ‘pen pals’ from Australia, Germany, England, and the United States.  We soon formed our own community on a separate Yahoo message board.  We used to send each other albums, books, magazines, and candy from our respective countries and chatted quite often.  Just as Dr. Schwier had said, our informal community began out of a passion and intensity for one subject (The Beatles) but was solidified by our need to get to know about EACH OTHER rather than just the subject at hand.  As with most communities, ours succumbed to mortality as we grew up.  Although I still send the occasional email to one or two of the girls, we grew up and grew apart, but it was a fun time while it lasted!

This was a very interesting and thought-provoking presentation.  I have no doubt that as the week progresses, I will think of even more ideas related to the presentation!  Thanks, Dr. Schwier!

I will leave you with a clip of one of the most underrated shows on TV, “Community”.  This clip is pretty applicable to last night’s presentation, even with all of its quirkiness.  (However, stop watching at 2:50, as it becomes no longer applicable after that point!)
“I now pronounce you, a community.”


My notes about Dr. Schwier’s presentation Connections and Contexts, September 27, 2011

Connections and Contexts

Not whether people connect online, but HOW do they connect?  What goes on?  Metaphor of “community”.  We have a need to connect.

Community – people learn in order to belong.
Collective – people belong in order to learn.  Communities derive their strength from creating a sense of belonging.  Collectives derive their from participation. You need to participate to learn.

Crucibles of Community

– MOOC – Massive Online Open Course  Want to call it a COOL  – Collaborative Open Online Learning.  Some say they’re not designed to be collaborative.  They’re designed to invent your own learning.  Might discover new people, but not intentionally collaborating.  Our group is more of a COOL.  We’re learning at different levels and engagement levels – group of students learning together, others joining (non-credit) to learn is the next level.

– DS106
Jim Groom – “Don’t teach your class: Produce it.”
“Don’t play the radio.  Play WITH the radio.” Digital Storytelling 106 – anyone can DJ the station.

Cogdogblog – he ‘couchsurfed’ to meet his online friends.  He created a ‘storybox’ and people anywhere can log on and save anything to his storybox that you want.

Cookielove – twitter. Incredible moment of connection.  As everyone did their cookie task, they tweeted about it and were all involved in supporting Alan through a tough time and showing it.  (Awesome how he showed up online to join us)

Features of Communities
How do we know one when we see it?

– Authenticity

SOMETHING REALLY REAL in a community.  When you engage with a group of others, you often create a REAL community.  Even if you can’t see them, you might know them more than some people who you see every day.  This is like my group counselling class.

Is Facebook killing authenticity?  You’re taking that identity and making it into something that may not be you based on protocol, who’s listening, how you act under certain circumstances.  Are we more inauthentic on Facebook, or are we more ourselves when we’re a pseudonym?

Online communities have made the world a small town.  Everyone can know everything about you.

Dr. Schwier says that in different circles you can put yourself out there in different ways.  If you put it all together and give some watered down version of yourself that’s good for everyone, that is not quite authentic.  It will evolve into something different for different groups.  Maybe you’re authentic in a particular way for each group, it’s just not the WHOLE authentic person.  We are multiple selves.

– Many-facets
It’s NOT about one thing.  They’ll start around one thing, but they’ll fragment into other things.

Boundaries –
You know you’re part of a community.  Online MOOC – no fences or boundaries.  There is resilience to community.  Sometimes, people feel lost, but boundaries can be bad.  They keep people in to feel safe, but then they keep people out as well.  Bounded environments can’t contain communities.  They often spring out of them, like plants that grow out of cracks in fences.  Life finds a way out of boundaries and constrictions.  Communities are not always good.  Strong-bounded communities – social capitalism, terrorism.  Communities aren’t positive or negative, but they have features that CAN be.

When people are well-connected, there is an ethic of forgiveness.  People forgive when someone in a community makes a mistake – easier than if not in a community.  This happens a lot with online communities – lots of sarcasm and sniping in a real online community.


People know about each other, and they want to KNOW about each other.  They want to learn more about each other than the main topic at hand (the reason they joined the community).  They WANT to get closer in a community.

They live a life, are born, mature, and die.  They evolve into other things or die away.  Rural community and online community – very similar.  They need a few things in order to survive.

How large can a community be?  Some say 146 (Dunbar’s number).  We CAN be close to quite a few people.  With really big communities, they often split into sub communities.   You can have groups online larger than 12-15, they can happen, but it’s a bit harder.  Around that number – people get to know each other and learn about each other.  This generates a lot of energy.


People in communities MOVE.  They’re either circling the outside or in the community radiating out.  You’re trying to get in, get out, or moving through it.

Not just anger or love, but something that they’re intensely invested in and that they CARE about!  If people don’t care, or if the intensity goes away, the community falls apart.  Community is formed around the intensity (so say, social activism) and then how it is maintained.  It takes a lot of work, or else it disipates.

– the “uber-characteristic”.  If you don’t have it, you don’t have a community.  This issue is all over Facebook.  How much is revealed to others?  How much do we WANT to reveal, and what is safe?

– formal learning (classes).  This is contained.
– non-formal – like a watering hole.  People offered like a course, but there’s no evaluation, like PD.
– informal communities – like a murder of crows – Invented and organized by the people INVOLVED.  People create their community as crows do.  Crows are also selectively social and antisocial. They choose when to cooperate and when they won’t, like people in online communities.  It’s all strategic – they share strategies and their products. and


–       Deep discussion or just chit-chat?  Formal environments – there was deep discussion.  Informal – all over the place with discussion.  Nonformal – no responsibility – very little depth, and for not very long.  What was happening was that in formal environments, there was time for it to grow.  They were forced to talk and then real community ignited.  This is like group counselling.  Took enough risks to get to know each other.
Nonformal – people didn’t feel responsilbity.  They WANTED to, but they will invest where the most urgent need is.  It might not be in the community.  There needs to be commitment.
When learners own something, PEOPLE WILL SHOW UP because it’s important.

“Community is worth believing in”.  It’s how we engage with each other, and our to get our students to engage with each other.


10 Responses to "Thoughts Regarding Community"

Hi chelsi, I’m a non-credit participant from the EC&I 831 course. I enjoyed reading you reflections on Dr. Schwier’s presentation, probably won’t make the live session due to the European time zone.

Thanks so much for the comment and for reading that long post! (After I posted it, I was thinking it may have gotten a tad long!) I appreciate that you took the time to read it. Take care!

Hey Chelsi,

I had many of the same sentiments in regards to having a speaker present from two hours away and then have Alan join. It was very “real” and I am finding that I really like learning in this style. I really wish that options like this were available for my firrst 9 classes!

I so agree! This is my 5th class, and I’m hoping that I can continue to take some more online classes in this manner! Congrats on being on your last class!

Thanks for your thoughts – you know after Tuesday’s presentation I was not sure how I felt about “the power of MOOC” – check out my Blog post for clarification; but as the week progressed and I reviewed my notes and Dr. Shwier’s presentation I really began to understand the power of open learning. As I clicked and hyperlinked and “googled” and tweeted I realized that my streams of consciousness where the byproducts of the engine of my brain attempting to rewire and produce meaning – true learning vs. knowledge acquistion and suddenly the light bulb turned on – Edison would be so proud!

That’s great! It is a really different way of learning, isn’t it? After the session, I told my husband that my brain “felt full”! It isn’t all of the information that is a lot to take in, it is what you said with our brains rewiring and producing meaning from everything!

Now that was a post. I agree my brain felt full too. And then after Schwier presented on community and then said that he actually didn’t believe they existed was a bit surprising. I can understand his thinking and then after last nights class someone refered to neighbourhoods within the community that resinated within me.

Hi Cathy,
Thanks for the comment! I agree – the neighbourhoods analogy was a great way of explaining sub-communities. I understand it even more now too!

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Chelsi. It was great to connect with you last week, and I hope I can continue to be a part of your learnining network, and that you’ll be part of mine!


Hi Rick!
Thanks so much for the response and for taking the time to read my post! I really enjoyed your presentation and the fact that you take time to connect with those who had the opportunity to listen to you speak! I will continue to read your blog and learn even more from you!

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