When communities “meet” online, the tools we select (or are provided with) combine to form virtual “places” for members of the community to be together and learn together. There is a complex and dynamic relationship between the community and the places where it meets – each shapes the other.
By thinking about how a community learns together, we can look in more detail about how our technology configuration supports the community in its purpose. Why does your community use technology: what challenges are you facing and how do specific tools enable you to address those challenges? Our selection of tools not only provides functionality to support the activities but also affects community dynamics.
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The Technology Landscape
There are many different tools available to us and they can be used in an infinite number of ways. The following perspectives can help us to see the way that technologies combine to meet our needs:
- Tools that support community activities
- Platforms into which they are bundled
- Features that make them usable
- Overall configuration into which they are integrated.
It is rare for a community to use only one platform. Some communities have a simple configuration, others mash together multiple tools. Even if you think you have an all-encompassing software system, it is likely that some aspects of community life will be facilitated, for example, by telephone, email or instant messenger exchanges outside the scope of your all-encompassing product.
Understanding our Communities
Technology stewards aim to both anticipate and respond to the needs of their community, to support the development of the community and help participants achieve their aspirations. The following methods may be helpful in understanding those needs:
- Community Orientations is an approach to describe the ways in which members of a community learn together. This helps us to identify and prioritise the most significant community activities to see where technology support is most needed.
- Dimensions of Community Life enable us to articulate some important social factors that impact the success of a learning community. These are a series of axes along which each community will find a comfortable balance. Technology can be used to support that balance, though introduction of new tools may also cause an imbalance.
A Technology Inventory
This worksheet enables us to take stock of our current technology configuration to see how well a community’s most important activities are being supported.