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 vol 2 – a community responsibility model

Had a great conversation tonight with David Cohn of the project. he has just been funded by the Knight Foundation to run a community driven news site which allows people to suggest, pitch and fund articles of interset to people who use the community. This is a really compelling project and I encourage you to check it out and pass the word about it… it really does push the model in an interesting direction.

Media and responsibility – citizen journalism
One of the interesting ‘half-divisions’ that David draws in this discussion is the distinction between citizen journalism and participatory journalism. The former, highlighted by projects like ireporter and, well, blogs like this one (and others) are people who are not necessarily professional writers or reporters who are giving their ‘take’ on a given topic and have included an indeterminate amount of thought and research to the matter. The other, what David is proposing with, is about the same people care about an issue mobilizing people to pay someone else to do this work for them. Someone, ostensibly, who has more experience or time (or both) to devote to the subject… I think as I think this over there may be some interesting outputs to that particular thought.

One of the main themes that comes out of this discussion is the role of community leadership in guiding the way a community uses its time, its money and how they are going to move people to be responsible. It’s an interesting counterpoint to the comment in the last post from Stephen Downes about being ‘forced’ to be responsible. Forced no… but I think I see some cross over here with what Stephen and George Siemens have been talking about related to connectivism and teaching by example. I think it does behove those people who are particularly passionate about an issue to lead the way in those areas and for others to keep their ‘portfolio’ of contributions pretty organized to avoid the community participation overload that Nancy was referring to in the last discussion.


Community Responsibility vol 1 – OMG is this a community?

This first post in the series of Community Responsibillity vs “The tragedy of the commons” is an attempt to lay the groundwork for the weeks to come and to start to tune the antanae to the idea of community. Where does it start and end? How do I know that I’m in a community? What should I do now that I’ve come to terms that I’m in one? These questions are at the heart of the community explorer’s mind as they wander through the internets…

Critical Point – Community vs. Network
In taking part in the CCK08 project I’ve come to believe that the distinction between these two concepts is critical to undestanding ourselves as net citizens. There is a distinction here that leads directly to whether or not you are ‘responsible’ in an ethical sense or ‘obliged’ in a legal sense. If you are in a community you are, in some way, responsible to that community, in a network you are responsible to yourself and the rules that govern you are those set forth by our society as laws.

Hence the critical need for being able to distinguish between them.

My Guest – Nancy White
Some highlights from the discussion with Nancy are detailed with the time they can be found at below. The conversation went a little longer than i’d intended, but the depth of her experience in the field of communities made it to hard to not keep asking questions. There are some nice thoughts here about how the ‘we’ takes over from the me in the transition to community and how reciprocity is the Number 1 most important thing in a community environment.


1:05 Nancy : Community is a group of people who care about something over a period of time.
1:56 Nancy : A community should be as concerned about we as they are about me.
4:00 Nancy : Communities can emerge at what starts out as an information connection into a personal relationship
4:31 Dave : So what happens to us on that transition, what qualities change or morph or adapt when we make that transition from network to community… as that cluster begins to emerge?
7:00 Nancy : Reciprocity as key to communities. Making reciprocity visible.
9:55 Nancy : fundamentally there’s alot that we know about offline human interaction that we seem to just for let disappear when we go online.
11:00 approaching an established community: the great value of newbies to communties.
14:00 managing multiple-memberships: managing your own expectations
15:58 How many functional relationships can you really have at one time?
16:20 The Well and why it works for Nancy.
19:00 Community scaling up to where there was not enough we.
Community is about that interplay of invitation and response… it’s like improv, make the other person look good and get what you want. That’s my personal values on communities… I’m not saying that other people should ascribe to them but to me that gets to the core.

Recommendation from Nancy : Peter Block – community the structure of belonging.

Another Project along similar lines
A very current project along similar lines of this one is Bud Hunts excellent K12-online presentation entitled “The Lie of Community“. He did several interviews of which i was fortunate enough to be one and they accompanied a really excellent 20 min audio presentation.

A key point that comes out of his presentation is to understand that there is no ‘one’ community out there… no model for which we can apply a single set of rules or guidelines or best practices. He takes a really nice people based approach to the discussion and gives people a really nice sense of what his community means to him. And hopes to continue the conversation… hopefully we’ll get some nice crossovers between what he’s doing and what I’m trying to do here.

Something i ran into while working on this
This is a really neat discussion of Open Source communities and how they are managed… (add on note: by david e. eaves and his main site

Community Management Presentation

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: 2007 fsoss)

download audio with nancy

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.

We are media and some thoughts about community

I took a listen to the late night conversation I had with Bud Hunt a little while ago about my thoughts on community and was struck by a few things (other than the fact that I probably talk too much.)

  1. No matter how good a community, its ideas, its positioning, there are almost always a couple of people working their tails off to keep it what it is.
  2. Community participation is almost entirely about the responsibility of the participant.

We are media project
I’ve talked quite a bit about this project this year. Beth Kanter was kind enough (after i volunteered) to ask me to be a critical friend on the project… (and I should be receiving a t-shirt soon!) I really can’t say enough about how much I like what she’s done with this project and the quality of the content. It also serves as an nice case for just how much work is required to get this sort of thing running. Go to any page and click the history button and what you’ll see is an excellent community organizer, helping things along, tweaking the wiki, encouraging contributors, finding new ways to keep participation interesting.

If you are looking for a great resource for social media, check this project out. If you are thinking of starting your own, look very closely at this project. Trying googling the project url, look through the wiki, and you’ll see how a pro does the job.

Go forward for we are media
Right now… the content in the project is very good. According to the work plan, the development part of the project is ending and the ‘instructional’ period is ramping up for december. I wonder what’s going to happen with the content. But how does one keep content this changeable uptodate?

I’m going to be working with george siemens on a course starting (omg… next week) and will definitely be using the wearemedia project as a resource… we should, as good members of a community, update the part of the content that need updating as a manner of ‘responsibility’ or payment if you like, for using the material. I worry, however, about potentially adding confusing information while beth et al. are designing their delivery methods… something to think about.

This kind of relationship, though, seems like a good one. A couple of courses decide to use the same repository/ies for their work and that keeps the work uptodate as well as avoiding the duplication of effort. I wonder if something like this with wearemedia and alec’s 831 course would make a nice balance between two excellent resources. mmm… community.

So how do we ensure that we are being responsible and respectful to the work that has been done in the communities that we travel in and with the resources that we appropriate. I relied on Alec’s course wiki for my own course this summer… but never contributed to it (though i certainly made it clear that I used it) I use to cheat my way through knowing what’s going on… and try to offer something back to stephen when the opportunity arises. There are many people out there following along with Steve Dembo’s ‘30 days to being a better blogger‘ and day three’s instructions are to thank someone who’s helped you.

Once a week ’till New Years – Being a more responsible community member
I think i’ll write a series of posts on this idea. Look for number one next Wednesday. I’ll wrap together all eight in a package at the end and post it somewhere as a package. waddaya think?

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