Tag Archives: Community Responsibility

Community participation, responsibility and defending lurking – introduction to emerging tech week 5

Listening my way through a series of podcasts created by the students of the intro to emerging tech course being taught through the University of Manitoba. The two papers at issue this week are on Communities of Practice and Why Lurkers Lurk (.pdf) . They’re a nicely matched pair for introducing ideas around the contributions that people make in a community learning environment, and seemed to strike a chord with our students in both the live discussions and in the podcasts that the students created in response to this week’s reading as well.

Response no 1 – I’m bad because I lurk
By far the overwhelming response from the students who have posted their podcasts (hem hem to you who have not) is that they felt a little ashamed of their lurking in their learning. There is some feeling that the word ‘lurk’ presents too negative a feeling based on the meaning that the word caries over from other context… but this isn’t the meat of the response. There is almost a sense in which the podcaster/students seem to feel like they are cheating themselves by lurking… like they are somehow “doing it wrong.” There is another, more traditional interpretation, in which they feel like they aren’t contributing to a community and are parasites on the work of others… but I find this ‘doing it wrong’ idea a compelling one. Where is this ‘right’ that they are comparing against? Is this another example of our traditional learning models looming…?

The students are drawing a tight connection between their own offline propensity for sitting ‘on the outside’ and not directly participating and their preference for luking online. (which does seem confusing as they feel like their offline learning is not ‘wrong’) And, as they progress from the lurker article to the community of practice article they find the language that they need in ‘legitimate peripheral participation’… lurking with a purpose, as it were.

“‘the purpose is not to learn from talk as a substitute for legitimate peripheral participation; it is to learn to talk as a key to legitimate peripheral participation’.”

(quoted in community of practice article from original Lave/Wenger book)

This then, is the defence of learning… assuming that there is a further goal beyond that. It’s a great defence if your lurking will eventually lead to more direct participation as you move towards the middle and begin to be able ‘to talk’ better within that community. Not that lurking particularly even needs a defence… I mean… how many expert knitters do we really need. I go to a knitting website, and I get information. If you are actually engaged in a community and are not helping, if people have helped you reach a level of proficiency that you then do not pass on… then that’s bad. But, like so many things, I think it just comes down to being honest about where you are, why you’re there, and what people have done for you.

The Community Social Contract
This is not a comment on what you ‘should’ do when you are in a community, but rather, an idea of what’s going. In response to one of my students in the course, I mentioned that teh social contract that is inherent in a community is different then other locations for knowledge acquisition and co-creation. If you are in a library, for instance, searching through books, there is an entire infrastructure (government or school created) that is behind trying to engender a certain kind of learning in a populace, trying to enhance the status of an institution or a particular person. This is not to say that they don’t want people to learn, but rather that these institutions exist in our society for a reason. they are paid for with tax dollars or as part of a business.

A community, on the other hand, is often the result of shared passion, shared interest, or shared self-interest. The social contract that exists is often difficult to read… There are some communities that love lurkers (edtechtalk is certainly one of those, by far the vast majority of our listeners we never hear from) there are others that expect a certain amount of participation… that would rather people ‘contribute’.

For my own part, I like to think of it like my no doubt oversimplified understanding of the word Karma. I don’t expect that most of the communities that I learn from particularly need my contributions. I try to leave behind questions and answers to issues that I have run into in order to leave that information behind me. And, what i particularly try and do is make sure that I participate where and when i can… This is the responsibilty that I have to the overall communities that I work in.

The mantra that i’ve been repeating over and over again lately is this “The stuff that you are reading on the internet, the communities that you interact with are REAL. They are created by real people. Treat them with respect. That is your responsibility as a good citizen.”

bit high handed I suppose… oh well…

Community Responsibility vs. ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’

Over the next 8 weeks I hope to run a series of discussions on community responsibility and how it’s critical for how I (and many others) work on the internet. I’m planning to write a series of reflections about the topic but, more importantly, to invite in a bunch of community folks to talk about what community means to them (likely not the same for everyone), to describe valuable examples of community responsibility that they’ve seen and to talk about their ideas for how they would like to see communities operate.

I was talking about this with Lawrie Phipps the other day and he pointed me to “The Tragedy of the Commons” as an interesting foil for discussion. According to wikipedia

The article describes a dilemma in which multiple individuals acting independently in their own self-interest can ultimately destroy a shared resource even where it is clear that it is not in anyone’s long term interest for this to happen.

The article itself is focusing more on the idea of a ‘limited’ resource, and we could argue that the ‘limited resource’ here – people’s attention, community focus on a cross section of the long tail – but I’d rather not get bogged down there, but our time certainly is limited… and the energy that we have to constantly create and recreate our knowledge bases is certainly limited. There are ways that we work together that are more effective and ways in which we can design spaces that are more effective. There are reasons to start work, to leave a trail behind you and reasons to decide that you shouldn’t start ‘Yet Another List’ of whatever it is you are working on.

The work that we do in communities is important to all of us. The work that is done in those communities is valuable and, in many cases, well worth tending as the projects go forward… but how to do it? Are we responsible to the communities that we participate in? If we are how do we, as community members, live up to our responsibilities?

Please… no more rules!
I doubt there is any single way to be a responsible community citizen, nor is this project intended to be an exclusive ‘8 ways to be a community member’… the idea is more about discussing the best practices and trying to avoid being either legalistic (you must do exactly this or…) or jingoistic (“yes we…” uh… probably too fresh there… just not jingoistic).

Our existing guidelines on things like citation and IPR are more about what you are ‘allowed’ to do, these things focus on the individual and what that individual can do to get the most of out of the commons of knowledge. What I’m more interested in is rather how we can be more ‘responsible to’ the communities that we work in and around. This goes all the way from realizing we HAVE participated in a community to acknowledging the work that you are building on in a way that furthers the community you have learned from, giving to that community in a way that makes it stronger and crafting communities so that these things are possible.

It’s a big mandate for one little eight part project, but I’ve been thinking and talking about this alot recently, and I’d like to crystalize some of the ideas that I have now if for no other reason than to use them as a frame of reference for later. I’m inviting in a bunch of smart people to hopefully learn from them and also better learn what I myself think about these things.

What you can do
One, I’d love some more suggestions about who to invite… I’ve gotten a few ‘yes’es so far and am hoping to get a few more people brought into the mix… no need to stop at eight folks for eight episodes… this is the internets, it’s not like I’m paying by the word :)

I’d also love if you folks, my own community, would interact with these ideas as they come along. I make no specific claim to ‘knowing’ how this should be done… really I don’t even think that’s possible. It’s only through the interaction that we get a sense for what is the ‘knowledge’ of this…

oh right… and like i said before… i got this idea after reading Steve Dembo’s 30 days to becoming a better blogger. Thanks steve.