In this post, Emma Louise Pratt of ELT Campus shares her thoughts on building a community…
I was so excited. I’d put my heart and soul into the project. A group of teachers at a local college were going to meet with me on a weekly basis to improve their confidence with English but also explore together methods and ideas for teaching subjects through English.
Being the tech head that I am, I promptly introduced the group to Edmodo with the idea that we could have this shared space for messaging, commenting and gathering information and learning for our new little learning community.
Like I said, I was so excited. So excited, I’d queue in some triumphant cinematic background music right here dear reader. Information was going to cascade forth, knowledge would be richly shared and generosity would abound with much energy and enthusiasm as we co-created and co-authored and co-[put-your-buzz-word-here]ed our own learning together. I had gone on ahead of myself and was contemplating ways to effectively “capture” that informal learning in our online space.
Two months later, and still just over half had signed up to our Edmodo scace. Edmodo was an empty hall, echoing with the sound of my own voice and comments to my own comments. Epic fail. This is the story of my epic fails. You didn’t expect that, did you?
Just ‘cos you build it, won’t mean they’ll come.
I had let my tech head get away from me. I love building stuff and visualizing stuff but I had designed the house from the roof down. I had forgotten to start with the crucial question of why. Why was I doing it?
Meanwhile in another part of town…
I was building an online course that had a forum attached. Yes, that’s right, attached. I had this idea that people would use the forum to flesh out ideas and clarify concepts from the course with me their tutor. I was getting great feedback about the content of the course but was disappointed that no one participated or asked questions in the forum. No one wanted to play with me. A community forum isn’t just a plugin that you can download and activate and think everything will spring into life.
Luckily we live in a world of agile builds. We can roll something out, test it, adapt and iterate, improve UX on the fly. I have time now to observe. Observation is key. But again, I hadn’t got my process right. Why had I attached the forum? What was the relevance of it?
Back at School…
Learning was happening, just not where I could observe it, or the place I hoped I could observe it. Community was forming, no wait, community had already formed. The change needed to come with my assessment of things, not theirs. I had discovered that it was me who needed to find my place in their community, not they in mine.
I decided to invest more deeply in the face to face, because face to face is where this community is at. It’s local, and physical, not online (yet). For this TECH head Emo who lived in a binary world, I needed to ditch the apps and ditch the tech.
I went back to my roots and got my paints out. I proposed an artist in residency project at the school. I had an exhibition date in New Zealand later in the year and needed to make work anyway, so I thought I could combine a task based learning project at the school with an artist in residence.
The plan was that I would be able to engage more closely with the teachers where they were at, and see what their realities were. There were other aims and objectives too, about language learning, group work, co-narrative making, presentations, and my presence as an artist, making work in the school where students could come and talk with me and chat about the creative process. I was excited.
Just ‘cos you build it, won’t mean they’ll come.
Did I say that already? Yes. No one came to play with me. During the week, one teacher came to bring their class to visit, three of the 24 students I was working with actually asked me about what I was working on. Others just passed it on their way to our daily progress meetings and feedback sessions. On other levels, my plans failed, all because people didn’t see the reason to engage and participate. Fail. Fail. Epic fail. But not quite….
Community is a Slow Build.
In desperation I talked to a blogger based in the UK, known as Fuscia Blue about change and motivation. Very importantly, I got some encouragement. I didn’t feel alone and realized my deflation wasn’t so uncommon. Even more importantly, I realised with relief that all was not lost, in fact it was just the opposite. I was only at the beginning of a long process and was struggling with the typical things that happen at the beginning of community formation. Things that were typical about change. The beginning of something new always requires a lot more scaffolding and support than you think. It requires testing, reflecting, adapting and trying again. Not everybody “gets it” like you do. Getting people to participate is hard, building community is not easy, but it can be made a little easier if we understand some key issues, know why we’re doing it and what we’re looking for. Failure is where growth begins if you’re brave enough to keep going.