Definition of Community
Galley et al. (2012) highlight an evolution in the notion of ‘community’ from Networks of Practice (Wenger, 1998; and Brown & Duguid, 2001) , and Network Sociality (Wittel, 2001) to Community of Inquiry (Garrison et al., 2000) and Communities of Interest (Fischer, 2002).
According to Smith (2001) early definitions of term community centre around place, as in physical location, interest as in an area of common life, e.g. Chinese community, and attachment, as in shared identity/sense of belonging. But where does one community end and another begin? What are the boundaries? I think in terms of place and interest it is relatively simple to ‘see’ and respect geographical and common interest boundaries. However, identity is not so straightforwardly visible. Also, community sounds inherently inclusive, but inevitably if some are ‘in’ it also means some are ‘out’.
The value of community
Communities can also be regarded as networks or local social systems: “Humans are social animals. Connection and interaction both widen and deepen what we can achieve, and makes possible our individual character.” (Smith, 2001). This is how I regard our online Masters community, acquiring new knowledge from tutors and recommended readings, bringing in new learning from external sources such as blogs, wikis and even Personal Learning Networks. For me, this open and shared community has led to deep satisfaction and inspired creative innovation.
Putnam (2000) introduces the idea of social capital:
‘Social capital’ calls attention to the fact that civic virtue is most powerful when embedded in a sense network of reciprocal social relations. A society of many virtuous but isolated individuals is not necessarily rich in social capital.
The author suggests that fostering community, participating in social networks and developing a shared identity is healthy for our emotional & psychological well-being. Essentially what I understand is that if we are to solve our problems an make progress it cannot be from individual effort alone, honourable as this may sound, but from a collective effort. This effort is embedded in three main qualities – tolerance, reciprocity and trust. The value in community therefore is that by participating and interacting we may learn more, better, deeper, in a more satisfying, gratifying way. As online interactions become the norm, these key elements of community need to be safeguarded and enhanced in order to replicate the positive outcomes of strong community.
Galley, R.,, Conole, G. & Alevizou, P. (2012). Community Indicators: A framework for observing and supporting community activity on Cloudworks. Interactive Learning Environments, 22(3), 373-395.
Putnam, R. D. (2000) Bowling Alone. The collapse and revival of American community, New York: Simon and Schuster.
Smith, M. K. (2001) ‘Community’ in the encyclopedia of informal education, http://www.infed.org/community/community.htm.