Metawriting posts from the new blog location

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Community Building With Badges

I've been thinking about community a lot lately - specifically class community or rather creating a learning community in my online classes. I know from both my experience and research that learning communities have many benefits for students (my recent reading includes Dawson, Kearns and Frey, Sadera et al). They foster learning and lead to high-impact educational experiences. Just a quick review of my blog shows that I have written about community a lot (too much? you be the judge) so I won’t get into all the reasons why I consider it important in this post and will instead focus on my current pedagogical thinking regarding community building.

While I consider community important, I also know from personal experience that creating a learning community in your class - especially an online required general education class - is no easy task. I've created successful online learning communities at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, but those successes have been in classes of willing, motivated students. So the real question is: how do you create a successful learning community with students who aren't so much?

I have been thinking about this question for weeks - before the fall semester was even over. I knew that the community in my online general education class was not as strong as I wanted and it seemed to weaken as the semester progressed. I've been struggling to find a way to do better this semester.

My solution is to put my money where my mouth is - or rather to give class credit for community building. I usually give credit for participation activities such as class discussion (in the form of blogs and journals etc), but now I am going to try breaking these out so it is clear that I value community building and participating on the blog posts of others.

I am only adding one new class activity to my usual introductory activities. I traditionally open the class with ice breaker activities such as six-word memoirs and me museums (oops, is that my writing project showing?) and I expect to do the same this semester. I have also used social media to give us a more informal space to connect and share. This spring I will again use Google+ for that purpose. However, I hope that by making “community building” an actual assignment with points assigned that students will get the message that this is important (I tell them but I think the fact that the points will underscore the idea). 

I am also going to steal/borrow/adapt Cathy Davidson’s draft badging system to support the community building assignment. This is a new activity that I’m adding to the first few class sessions. My idea is to have students create badges for their community building work (frequent flier, cheerleader, class clown, social butterfly etc.) and then strive to earn as many badges as possible. I think it could be fun and spark a lot more activity and involvement. If it works I’ve already got plans to use a similar system for discussion feedback and writing workshop. Stay tuned!

How do you use badges in your classes? What community building activities do you use? Do you think my idea of community-building badges is a good idea or a disaster-in-the-making?

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