Sunday, November 09, 2008

Online and F2F Community Collaboration

This past week my class on Program Development explored the problems and possibilities of creating community-based collaboration in F2F settings and online. In general, most of us were reluctant to give up the importance of some F2F interaction as a part of creating communities.

I think it is still hard for me to completely believe that I can create as deep and rich of relationships with only online communication. We pushed the idea with a discussion of whether the addition of audio and video would overcome the limits of not being in the same room with people. Most of us neither had the experience to make a firm judgement about this or were aware of research findings that helped us answer this question. We did read a chapter in a very interesting book called Leadership at a distance (2008), edited by Susan Weisband. The chapter we read was by Brian Butler and his colleagues, titled, "Community effort in online groups: Who does the work and why?" A key point that Butler and his colleagues make is that successful online groups are the result of social behavior, not technical infrastructure. They write,
"At least four kinds of social behavior are necessary. First, people must tend the tools
themselves by managing software versions, keeping address files up to date, and so on. People also must recruit members to replace those who leave. They must manage social dynamics. They must participate. Without these group maintenance activities, even sophisticated tools and infrastructure will not sustain viable online groups" (p. 4-5).
There is a lot of "stuff" buried inside these four social behaviors that they identify and these are complex interactions to maintain and sustain in online settings (and in F2F settings). There is still much we do not know about online collaboration and the kinds of efforts it will take to make these work.

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