The DE Hub Virtual Learning Space: A Niche Social Network Community of Practice

The DE Hub Virtual Learning Space: A Niche Social Network Community of Practice

Nathan Wise (University of New England, Australia) and Belinda Tynan (University of New England, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-114-0.ch009
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Abstract

Our concept of ‘virtual learning spaces’ is changing, as are the practices that are adopted within these spaces. To understand these changes, this chapter will provide an exploration of the conceptualisation and creation of an interactive, online, social network community of practice. The case that will be used is based around the Distance Education Hub (DE Hub) which is both virtual and physical. DE Hub is in the simultaneous process of constructing and facilitating a virtual space to support and encourage both knowledge dissemination and knowledge creation. The DE Hub space focuses on learning as a cooperative, constructive, and dynamic process involving engaged communities of scholars, learners and practitioners. It will tackle the question of why this virtual learning space is defined as a niche social network and how this impacts on the conceptualisation and consequent development of virtual spaces — in this instance, co-development by the community. Finally, it will demonstrate through this analysis how changing concepts of ‘virtual learning spaces’ are put into practice through ‘virtual space’ design and development for creating and supporting niche social networks.
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Introduction

Annette Lorensten (in Bernath et al., 2009) briefly noted, “the two most promising new learning contexts to replace the traditional classroom setting seem to be virtual learning spaces and situated learning in learning communities where learning and work are combined and intertwined” (p.60). This chapter focuses specifically upon our understanding of ‘virtual learning spaces’ and the practices adopted within these spaces through an exploration of the conceptualisation and creation of an interactive, social network, research community of practice. The case that will be used is based around the Distance Education Hub (DE Hub) which is both virtual and physical. Through an exploration of the structure and purpose of the DE Hub space (DE Hub, 2010), this chapter will uncover issues surrounding ‘engagement’ and the ‘relevance’ of virtual spaces situated against the theoretical knowledge base around communities of practice and the co-generation of knowledge. Through an analysis of the DE Hub space this chapter will uncover contemporary practices surrounding the design and development of online spaces. It will reveal considerations that take place in facilitating the creation and ongoing support of a sense of ‘value’ amongst participating community members and provide insight into the decisions that are made to ensure practical application of such spaces. The work presented here does not aim, nor is there space, to address in detail criticisms of virtual spaces in the contexts of the use of personal learning tools such as blogs, wikis or repositories and no doubt others in this book have done so. Nor is a full exploration of the substantive literature around repositories presented. Rather the case presented here uses that work as the starting point and attempts to locate the development of the DEHub ‘virtual’ social niche network from the view of relevance and purpose.

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