Re: Digital Learning Communities

Bob King (
Mon, 2 Sep 1996 23:35:39 -0400

On Mon, 2 Sep 1996, Marcy Bauman wrote:

> I'm just wondering
> what purposes -- what tangential societal glue, maybe -- those casual
> contacts served, or what human needs got fulfilled that are not now going
> to be fulfilled, and that we'll have to find other ways to meet.

I kind of think we are finding other ways to meet. Coffeehouses are
making a comeback, for one thing, and I guess I don't miss having to think
of something inane to say to the guy at the gas station!

> I am interested in the ways in which, because CMC frees us from
> space and time constraints, the notion of "learning communities"
> changes. I noticed when I taught an online composition course this
> spring that it was a _lot_ harder to get people involved and feeling like
> part of a group than it is in my f2f classes.

I've only used electronic media in environments which had at least an
optional f2f. I've liked that option, and I'm not sure really I'd want to
teach without it. I could see a distance class providing a good excuse
for a field trip or two.

> There's a sense in which actually
> going somewhere different at a specially-designated time to meet with
> others whose purpose in going there is (roughly) the same as yours has a
> profound effect on the dynamics which occur at that place & time. I
> don't think we know much about those effects, because we've never been in
> a position to create a community _without_ temporal & spatial constraints
> before.

I'm not sure we're in that position now, really. One way or another,
temporal and spatial constraints assert themselves I think, but they're
different in shape, duration, limit, etc. One way or another, people
who have community in electronic environments deal with those constraints,
imaginatively or otherwise, and depending on their gifts, I think, same as
it ever was.

All in all, I prefer the problems of negotiating electronic community to
the problems of negotiating smalltalk at gas stations and so on, but both
have their problems! In regard to learning communities, I feel the same;
I prefer the dynamics of computer-based learning, I feel I can do more
with the opportunities which that formation presents, given my
particular array of Hampshires, Citadels, Buddhas, etc.

> I'm also thinking about this because of the discussions I read on
> some distance education lists. It's becoming increasingly common for
> institutions to want to buy classes wholesale, as in, "My school is
> looking for an introductory management course covering the following
> principles. Anyone got one for sale?" There are so many ways in which
> this disturbs me, it's hard to count them all; just as when we shifted
> from one-room schoolhouses to multi-graded schools, we lost some
> important assumptions about enterprises and kids learning from each other, I
> think that the move to computerized learning may mean that we'll lose
> some equally important assumptions about the relationship between teachers,
> learners, and subject matter.

Again, probably so, we'll lose some stuff, at least in *some* contexts. I
guess true distance learning strikes me as a very different kettle of fish
than computer-based learning. I don't personally think the latter
really makes all that much sense as an exclusive diet unless circumstances
dictate it (i.e, the outback of Australia). And even then, I think a
local angle -- a local discussion group or some such thing -- would be
part of my overall design, if I were involved in designing distance
learning ecologies. The kind of "anyone got an class for sale?" thing you
mention above seems to me a real misdirect, and hopefully something that
just won't take hold because it will fall flat, like tv-learning has for
the most part.

> I think it's especially important that we think about these
> issues here on the eve of our Future Careers as University Theme Park
> Employees, as Eric reminds us.

Yes, it's good to be morphing now rather than later, reading the writing
on the screen and planning accordingly. . .

> (And yeah, I'd love to have the reference for the baseball film, if
> you've got it handy.)

It's called _Two Ball Games_, and if you have trouble locating it via your
media center or whatever, I'll try to find more info on it.