Friday, 5 September 2008

Thoughts on the Meaning of an Online Community and its Uses

In trying to focus on the meaning and purpose of an online community there are three central concepts have helped me to understanding the elements that comprise a community whether face to face or online. These concepts are oultined in a paper presented at the Australian Association for Research in Education Conference, Fremantle, 2-6 December, 2001) by Mentis et al. These concepts are that of "commonality", "interdependency" and "scaffolding"as shown below:

  • Commonality is a process involving working together on common areas or goals with bonding taking place between individuals and the group as a whole
  • Interdependency meaning depending on each other for information, knowledge sharing and shared problem solving
  • Scaffolding being the sharing of information and abilties

The Survey

Clearly a key aspect of identifying a community is that of sharing. A survey undertaken of an online community of 32 postgraduate students spread across North and South Island New Zealand as part of an Educational Psychology Training programme where student perceptions on the value of WebCT tools such as course discussion, chat room, class photo and then library were perceived as highly valuable with no negative ratings. Also the survey results of the Educational Psychology On-Line Community showed that students gave high rankings to co-participatory activities such as creating a sense of community, participating in forums and communicating with course coordinators and colleagues.

The Results

The survey results based on student perception rankings supported the contention of the authors that key dimensions of online community building include important concepts such as commonality and interdependence.


One could take the view that this particular online community was "constructed" as part of an educational course setting. In a recent online discussion about facilitating On line Communities facilitated by Leigh Blackall at Otago Polytech the challenge given was to identify online communites outside of an educational environment were the above results could also apply perhaps?


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