Real or imagined community?

Still one question about the difference between community and network. I followed  a course about ‘internet and social networking’ in my nearest university in Jyväskylä, in order to check how they handle these issues. I had learned my ways to study and participate on the internet by doing and experiencing. The following tweet has a message, which tells about my feelings:

socmediaSocial media doesn’t cause ignorance but it is very effective at documenting it. I knew this and went to the university to check the borders of my self-made ignorance. Teaching in all Finnish universities is free and open, I can walk to the lecture hall and sit down to listen and discuss with young students. All the material was open in Google Drive and it still is. Use it or lose it I could say about Finnish universities. The choice is mine. Not every teacher shares his material openly but Erkka Peitso did so.

I want to show a diagram which the lecturer presented to us. I have translated it into English. What is the difference between community and network?


In the community people have shared something, for example interest , but the membership may be imagined, it is not shared always. The network is defined by the connections between people (or whatever nodes). These connections can be identified and so they are known and visible.

This is the point where my eyes opened and I began to wonder why only communities can be imagination. How about networks? The rhizo14 participants are registered on the P2P University sites, 186 of them on the Facebook group and many follow #rhizo14 hashtag on Twitter. Dave Cormier has told that the course has about 500 students. Most of them are hidden somewhere.

In my previous post I was sure that we are a community but today I am not sure any more. The science of networks (Barabasi) deals with clusters, which are said to be the natural form of organisation of human beings. We do not know the 500 students in our course, we know some of them. We have real clusters or circles in our imagined community. When you participate actively, your circles grow larger. Let’s play with these concepts or without them. Here is an interesting experiment from Kevin H. in Twitter a hour ago. Try it!


15 thoughts on “Real or imagined community?

  1. Good post Heli. I often document my ignorance on social media – but hopefully also my learning (less obviously). We have already seen on #rhizo14 seen that Community of Practice is not favoured by Dave as the sort of community we are . Our version seems to be implicit – or at any rate too implicit for me. I did a lot of reading and writing about online or virtual communities before social networking services kicked off big time. Most of the thinking about ol community included the 3Ps, people, purpose and policies. I think I will write a quick blog post on this linking back here.

    • Different perspectives, yes.
      I have used Wenger’s communities of practice when I was still working in teacher education. I like it, but haven’t used it during this course – yet,

  2. I think of communities more in the sense of ‘areas of denser connection’. In a f2f community you might bon on a school board with someone, and their neighbour and your kids play together, and you play hockey together and see each other at the grocery store, and help build a barn for another neighbour… etc… lots and lots of points of connection.

    For some reason this feels different to me than ‘shared interest’ unless we see interest as the context within which we make connection… not the connection itself. I imagine the community diagram to look similar to the dot/line network diagram above but with more lines and not all of them connected.

    • You use community (as curriculum) in rhizo, so you think that we have dense connections (dense has so many meanings in dictionary that I don’t know what use meant) – people who meet often?

      Yes, we can imagine diagrams of any form but I feel that this is my last post about communities and networks, the basic concepts.

      What happens in the course and why?
      What is the influence of the theme rhizo learning to our working?
      I am interested in these questions in near future ….

    • One of the reasons that I posted the framework ( see link below) is that denseness of connections can jeopardise (as well as build) community (or least its sustainability) when participants weigh up the costs and benefits.

  3. Pingback: Framework for Virtual Communities | Francesbell's Blog

  4. Good evening Heli.

    Thank you for these shared lines. I am increasingly dubious about the ‘community’ logo as it appears to me that it is more often imposed or stuck on groups of people rather than embodied. I do not feel like pretending I am doing community service.

    I am of the opinion that John Paul Gee has put his finger on the problem in this article here

    I would agree that I am acting in an affinity space in rhizo14 and benefitting from its pull to attract networked people who oscillate around what has meaning for them. This maybe an icon, a crowd, a movement, a sense of belonging or other.

    I am learning much about my ‘curriculum’ in these exchanges but I reckon that my engagement is inherent to me and that my perceptions of what the various interactions afford derive from a long learning journey.

    Neither curriculum nor community appear really related to a rhizo14 entity. There are undoubtedly others who experience the spaces differently to me but they have another story.

    Once stories entwine over time community perhaps I shall recognise.

  5. Good morning, Simon
    Your comment had to wait for moderation over a night. I slept early after the sauna yesterday. But here I am now. You live in France, I visited your blog and begin to follow it.

    I love your words in the last piece: “Neither curriculum nor community appear really related to a rhizo14 entity..” I had forgotten that view, which I had at the beginning of my rhizo posts. Are there sense of virtual community in rhizo14, that was my first question in Febr 4th.

    As to the concept ‘community of practice’ by Wenger: it worked well in my workplace when we found the book. We had built such communities and it was easy to use the concept. Thanks for the link you gave. I have not thought the concept at school for pupils. For me it works in a workplace.

    As to curriculum: why don’t we speak about PLP, personal learning plans. So it was called in the teacher education, where I used to work. Now I am happily retired and that’s why i have time for rhizo14.
    See you there

    • @Heli and @Simon – we all have our own #rhizo14 here but I haven’t seen anyone suggesting that we have a community of practice here, least of all me. Interestingly in digging back through what I had written about differing perceptions of community online a decade ago, I came across this
      “Formally organised online learning communities may share a problem with schools – that what school teaches may be how to ‘do’ school- identified by Scribner & Cole (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Scribner & Cole, 1981). ” So I think that James Paul Gee is being a bit unfair to Wenger even though I can see that the ideas in the paper are useful.
      In talking about communities (of varying flavours, networks, affinity space, etc.) I don’t think we are looking for the ‘right’ form of association for #rhizo14, it’s not the battle of the labels. I think that we are trying to make some sense of the different forms of association that we engage in (where and how we met before rhizo14, how we engage here and now). Because ‘community is the curriculum’ is there in the course title then ‘community’ becomes (one of) the focus of our sense-making.

  6. I have been studying the concepts for describing rhizo14 and I’ve a feeling that now we have labels enough. Simon’s comment was fresh: we could leave both community and curriculum.

    My post 4.2. Sense of virtual community is perhaps most useful. After that I have tried many paths but left them soon. I wrote today 13.2. a post about visits to this post and understood that I have met my old moocer friends here – and I had a sense of virtual community or tribe already before this course.

    It is delightful to get new friends, an learn about their different expectations.

    What are we doing here and why, is the next challenge.

  7. Hi Heli, I just watched (well, most of) this week’s unhangout session and, seeing Dave talk about his notion of ‘community’ I think I started to get a sense of what he means when he says ‘community’. It seems to be a very broad definition, but seems to differ most from Wenger’s concept of ‘community of practice’ in that he sees it as people not simply coming together around a single specific shared interest or professional practice but around many different things. To me, this makes sense because rhizo14 has definitely made me think and reflect about a lot of different things in life – not just the weekly topics as they relate to teaching and learning.
    Parenting for example, has been a big one for me – it’s made me reflect a LOT on my behaviour as a parent, how I influence my child, how my child learns from that. Broadly you could say, that relates to learning – and actually what got me on that track of thinking to begin with was Dave’s video of him asking his son about dinosaurs, which he shared very early on – and I think shortly after he actually said (or maybe I read in one of his blog posts) that the process of rhizomatic learning is a lot like how you ‘teach’ kids as a parent.

    Reflecting on art and play – using art as a means to convey complex ideas, more succinctly than text – and arguably without the explicit value judgements that are often embedded in text comments, posts, etc – this has been a real revelation to me in rhizo14. I’ve used poetry a lot as a vehicle for communicating things that seem to complex for me to post about but I’ve seen others use video, visual, audio media – and that tapestry dialogue from @dogtrax that you linked out to is creative genius.
    I see art as a way to explore ideas – in a way that is perhaps more playful than discussion or comments or blog posts. And I’ve sort of been thinking that play and playfulness also has a role potentially in making people more open to explore, lower barriers…

    Reflecting on how we consume and create online, sometimes without fully reflecting, and how distracted we are and are becoming as a result. This came into my consciousness largely as a result of Mariana’s post – which caused me to reflect on how I was ‘consuming’ content in rhizo14 – doing a lot of hopping around blogs, not often stopping to really think and reflect fully, getting a bit overwhelmed by it all (mainly because there is too much good stuff being posted!)

    So, from that perspective rhizo14 has touched a lot of different aspects of life for me but how and whether that relates much at all to the concept of ‘community as curriculum’ I’m not entirely sure. I guess many of these personal reflections of mine – comes from feeding off the ‘community’ as opposed to the prescribed ‘course topics’ – maybe this is what it means??

    as usual, I’ve explored a few thoughts through a rambling comment but come up with questions rather than answers…this seems to be mostly the point of this type of learning…!?

  8. Thanks for your comment, Tanya

    and the link to Mariana’s post, she has many blogs.
    Perhaps we should forget the concepts community as curriculum and enjoy about everything what we can get for understanding human life.

    Parenthood is best teacher, or the own children. I have excellent opportunity to learn from my grandson during next week. He is 4 yrs and visits us alone, it is exciting. I can follow rhizo14 via iPhone and accept new comments but I do not sit with my computer. I’ll be back on Sunday 23rd.

    • I’ve enjoyed exploring the concepts of community on your blog and others – I think it’s pretty fascinating how it all takes shape and to inquire about what it means in different contexts – and I suppose that’s the thing: this concept of community looks and feels different in various contexts. I’ve found rhizo14 to be very interesting from the perspective of it being quite different to other more structured online learning experiences, and it’s natural as people interested in learning that we’re going to want to pick it apart and examine what we think is working about it and what we might do differently.
      This is part of what I’ve liked about it – it’s generated so many interesting conversations about open online learning design, norms, conversation, community – things ABOUT the course itself rather than the topics / content. Aside from all of those other things I mentioned earlier.

      That will be very exciting having your 4 yr old grandson with you..I have a 3 yr old son, it’s such an interesting age when they’re still learning so much themselves about behavioural, communication and social norms, becoming independent – I think you’ll find yourself reflecting a lot on rhizo14 discussions (especially the ‘enforcing independence’ parts). It will be great to check in with you during this time (… perhaps in the evenings after your grandson has gone to bed! > this is when I do most of my stuff…!)

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