The contemporary society addresses complex, interrelated, and interactive global situations to be faced by its citizens. Instead of pursuing solitary actions, this post-modern turn requires its actors to develop capacities to resituate their activities in collective unities and to successfully communicate their actions within these multiple local and global communities. Also in education, the concept of community continues to possess a positive image and the optimistic premises of how communication technologies may enable communities to grow have been widely discussed. For example, in higher education, educational practices (e.g. Virtual University) are more often fixed around Web-based collaborative learning environments, based on the broad frame of computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) approach. It is put forward in this chapter that in higher education, technology-enhanced learning communities, if seen as an extension of the idea of Web-based collaborative learning environments, could be welcomed as timely and innovative educational practices - as relevant paths to successful collaborative learning.
Even a limited overview on the research literature on communities reveals that there is apparently no single mutually agreed definition of the term “community” (e.g. Bruhn, 2005; Shumar & Renninger, 2002; van den Besselaar, De Michelis, Preece, & Simone, 2005). In the English language, the basic origin of word “community” is closely related to words “communication” and “common” (Davies & Herbert, 1993), which makes it an adequate term for groups of people with mutual interests and experiences and who communicate amongst themselves to pursue these interests (Mercer, 2000). Traditionally, people have always been part of local communities where close ties and personal relationships that go beyond casual acknowledgement, bind people together. According to Bruhn (2005), these relationships are closer than casual ones because they are based, for example, on kinship and on common goals and values, which create positive feelings and result, in turn, in reciprocity and commitment. Communities and their members may vary, but community also entails a degree of stability in partnership and belongingness among members. Also, the community itself as a specific social construction may be “the” uniting value (Loewy, 1993). Today, communities also extend beyond particular physical locations and, accordingly, people may simultaneously belong to multiple communities - ranging from technology-enhanced or online encounters to “real-life” interactions. The ways in which technologies enable contemporary communities to grow, may also vary. On the one hand, in online or Internet communities (Burrows & Nettleton, 2002; Preece, 2000) the spatial and temporal resources are entirely symbolic (Shumar & Renninger, 2002) and the membership is based more on individuals’ interests rather than on proximity. These online communities are not to be understood as mirror images of locales offline, but might have a potential to increase the sense of belonging and community, normally associated with behaviour in real-life settings (Kolb, 2000).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Instructional Design (ID): Conventionally, instructional design refers to linear and externally controlled design practice consisting of systematic choices and use of procedures, methods, prescriptions, and devices to bring about effective, efficient, and productive learning. However, in CSCL, “designing” often points to more iterative and cyclical design endeavor, where design activities and procedures integrate collaborative learning theories, technology-enhanced learning environments and diverse actors in a pedagogically relevant way.
Virtual University: Depending on a context, the term points to networked universities or to open and technology-enhanced education at the universities. However, virtual university courses are widely used to support face-to-face education.
Technology-Enhanced Learning Community: Traditionally, the concept of community refers to a group of people bound together with close ties and personal relationships, based typically on a kinship and on reciprocity. More recently, the concept has extended to online environments; its members linked globally by information and communication technologies (ICT). In educational context, community practices take place in technology-enhanced learning environments, where learning processes and learning support are often blended in face-to-face and in online learning environments.
Collaboration Script: A detailed and explicit contract between the instructor and the learners, often in a sequence of phases, each phase typically consisting of a set of instructions that prescribe the task, the group composition, the way the task is distributed within and among the groups, the nature of interaction, and the timing. A well-known example of a collaborative script is the “Jigsaw.”
Technology-Enhanced Learning Environment: A (Web-based), designed learning environment where the information and social spaces are explicitly represented. These learning environments may vary from text-based to three-dimensional environments and may integrate various technological tools and pedagogical approaches where face-to-face and online interaction overlaps.
Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL): The wide term combines both pedagogical and technological aspects. In CSCL, collaborative learning is supported by the use of different technological tools, from basic e-mail systems to more complex three-dimensional virtual learning environments. The term relies on various socially oriented theories of learning and has been applied from the primary school level to higher education context within various domains.