October 15, 2006

Community and Audience

I want to follow up on a post by Clarence last month on Audience vs. Community. Clarence does a fine job of outlining the difference and particularly focuses on his concerns about students seeking audience over community. This is true not only for our students but for adults in the blogosphere.

I’ve grateful for the community of learners, that for me, exist both locally and online. They are equally important to my professional and personal growth. For me community and audience is somewhat intertwined. While my writing my be presented to a faceless, unknown audience, I also have a relationship with many who I consider more community. Their writing and comments help me shape my own understandings and at the same time, I’m hopeful my writings has similar impact on others. In some respects the difference between audience and community is not so critical.

In the classroom however, I think schools need to defend their existence and the key to this existence is community. Students do not need school to learn. We’ve seen the increase in home schooling over the past number of years and also the advent of distance education may be reducing the traditional classroom’s importance.

So what should schools be doing to address this? Barbara Ganley recently presented on why she uses social software and in her presentation addresses the importance of social learning. Social learning takes place in both physical and virtual environments. While reading and writing and communicating online allows me to connect to some great thinkers and content, I need to physically be present with colleagues and the learning that occurs with those people is somewhat different but certainly as important. School needs to continue to foster social learning. Anne Davis says:

I also know that we must help build communties like that for our students IN SCHOOL AND OUT. We can have enthusiastic, creative, and lifelong learners but we have to call for the questions in many areas that may be quite “sticky.”

The use of project based learning is certainly going to be part of the solution. I think we need to value students who discuss learning as a social activity. “We are learning….we are discovering” this is the language and nature of community that will be the cornerstone of effective schools. You cannot experience the powers of community in an exclusively online world. Schools need to recognize the niche the currently have of having students physically in their building. They need to leverage this asset by offering social learning experiences as the focal part of school.

So while Will and others including myself, continue to promote the opportunity of publishing and the value of audience, I also think we need to equally emphasis the value of community and social learning.