Technology Stewarding as a Medium to Develop and Sustain Niche Online Communities

Technology Stewarding as a Medium to Develop and Sustain Niche Online Communities

Ann-Louise Davidson (Concordia University, Canada), Issa Gulka (Concordia University, Canada), Andre Valle (Concordia University, Canada) and Chantal Castonguay (Concordia University, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5206-4.ch014
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The goal of this chapter is to operationalize the theoretical argument about the importance of technology stewarding in the development of niche online communities. To bring about successful changes in a system, technology stewards propose technological solutions that will help to solve the problems of a community they know well. Assuming the role of a technology steward is the theme of a course in the M.A. in Educational Technology Program at Concordia University. Students enrolled in Social Computing and Computer Supported Collaborative Learning have twelve weeks to find a community that needs technological solutions and to propose such solutions to help them develop and to sustain their livelihood. The body of this chapter presents three vignettes, each consisting of a student project. Andre and Chantal’s vignettes both describe the creation of online learning communities with second language students, while Issa’s vignette describes the creation of an online support community of people suffering from the symptoms of a systemic illness. The three vignettes describe the approach in which each project was undertaken, the outcomes, and the lessons learned.
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Web 2.0 has been a promising technology to help improve learning and for building online communities. The term “Web 2.0” is often associated with Tim O’Reilly, because of a conference held in 2004 in which he used it. In a nutshell, Web 2.0 refers to the technology that presents affordances allowing end-users to contribute as much as developers, and to become active producers of the knowledge that accumulates on the Web. This co-construction of knowledge is possible because of various enabling social technologies, which were emerging in the early 2000’s. While Wikipedia, Wikispaces, MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogspot, WordPress, Twitter, and Pinterest slowly became adopted social media sites in North America many niche online communities were taking form within these environments. Despite the mass adoption of social media, they were dismissed for classroom use. This gave rise to a stout debate between some scholars.

When CBC reporter John Bowman (2009) interviewed Carleton University professor Tim Pychyl about the value of social media in the classroom, Pychyl argued that “[…] while discussion groups, blogs and email can be valuable tools in the classroom, using commercial products like Facebook and Twitter can lead to distraction and procrastination.” He stated “Facebook is like taking a person with a gambling problem to Vegas. It's just too easy to get doing other things rather than the hard work of intellectual work. And Twitter is even worse.” On the other side of the debate, professor Ann-Louise Davidson from Concordia University claimed that educators had good reasons to be careful about the use of social media in the classroom, but insisted that much could be learned with social media in terms of generating content, developing a variety of competencies, and using them ethically and keeping oneself safe (Bowman, 2009).

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