Digital pedagogical communities

I’ve been loving #DigPINS, not only for gaining a different perspective on pedagogy, but also because of how these topics are relevant to my professional research as well. One thing I’ve been researching lately are brand communities, or how people form relationships with other consumers based on using a particular brand. For example, I’m a huge beer geek and joined a membership club for a brewery in the middle of nowhere Colorado. I’d go up every few months to pick up bottles and hang out with the brewer and other members. It was always a blast and I made friends with other members because of it. These communities have a lot of value to a company, but I wonder if they can be applied to digital pedagogy to get similar benefits. To me, this seems like a process similar to one we’d need to cultivate the learning environments that we hope to achieve in online classes.

Below are 4 principles of building brand communities (adapted from Fournier & Lee, 2009) that I think might transfer to building digital pedagogical communities. I’d love to get your thoughts!

1) Strong brands (classrooms) arise from the right community structure – not vice versa. The strongest, most stable structures for a class would be one whose affiliations are based on close one-to-one connections, and so as instructors we should try to provide opportunities for members to forge many interpersonal links.

2) Brand communities (classrooms) thrive on conflict and contrast – not love. By creating a sense of contrast (i.e., defining out-groups), conflict, and boundaries, it could strengthen group unity. I could see this being applied to some group activities (but definitely not all), or maybe framing the class to be against some non-real group?

3) Communities (classrooms) are strongest when all members – not just opinion leaders – have strong roles. Everyone in the class needs to play a value-adding role (i.e., everyone needs to participate and try to be a part of the community). This can likely be done by setting up various assignments in the class.

4) Online social networks (e.g., LMSs) are only a tool – not your community strategy. The online learning management systems should facilitate interactions and should be a tool to support classroom needs.

What do you all think? Any of those seem wrong? Anything not included that you think should be? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

(4) Comments

  1. Reid Riggle

    An interesting idea. I am struggling a bit with the second point. I would need to hear what is meant by “conflict.” Contrast seems to be much more realistic. If we are talking about the value of debating different perspectives as “conflict,” I see value there. The discourse over ideas can help to create new insights and resolutions can build a common understanding which could foster community. But your beer example does not seem to have this quality. Tell us more about this idea.

  2. Miles

    I think you’re right that contrast is more relevant for digital pedagogical communities, though conflict is similar (but a bit more extreme) to me. Conflict also relies on the idea of in-grouping and out-grouping, and that feeling apart of an ingroup is going to make you feel a stronger connection with others in that ingroup. There’s a lot of cool research about how just being part of a group makes you feel closer with others in your group (even if you were just randomly assigned to that group). In my brewery example, there is a sense of being part of an exclusive group that is distinct from other beer drinkers and other beer club members (e.g., people talking smack about another similar brewery in the Facebook group).

    In my mind, the idea here would be to somehow set up the classroom in order to make everyone in it feel like they are part of a ingroup. I could see this process happening a few ways, with all basically revolving around your idea about seeing the value of debating different perspectives. Concretely, it could be setting up an activity that pits the class or groups against an idea (e.g., maybe an outdated theory that is only right in some situations so the students have to tear it apart as a class) or the class vs a devil’s advocate (likely the instructor – I had an instructor do this very well in college) about some relevant topic. I could also see it working as having many debates in the class where students are assigned so they work with everyone else at least once (this would be more difficult to set up but perhaps more engaging for everyone). I think it could take a lot of forms, but having a theoretical foundation could be easier in figuring out what those forms might take in the classroom.

    Also, I should have said that don’t necessarily see a 1:1 carryover between brand communities and classroom communities – I just think there might be some insights from other relevant domains.

  3. alaina

    I especially like #2. I’ve been thinking a lot about growthful conflict and how we embrace/enable conflict in our work environment to create bonds. It is all about establishing a team mentality–I think back to being on sports teams in school and how quickly/easily it was to form a bond with my teammates because it was us against them. I like the idea of moving away from love as the centering force, especially in a classroom or work environment. What else can we unite over?? Great points.

    1. Miles

      Definitely! I had the same experience with high school sports. I think the thing to watch out for as an instructor is making sure you manage the conflict appropriately, bc the flip side to this is that if someone is seen as an outgroup member by the class, then students won’t respond positively or productively to that person. So it’s vital that other students are not seen as outgroups, or that if they are, they are quickly rotated back into the ingroup (e.g., via continuously switching groups for debates).

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