Note: You can find a significantly updated and expanded version of this post describing the benefits of online communication for community engagement here, and another describing the disadvantages of online communication of community engagement here.
I found this on Wikiversity, one of the many resources on Wikipedia, today. Whenever we talk about engaging communities online we are inevitably questioned about “exclusion” issues. What socio-demographic group does this technology favour? Who is being excluded from this debate?
As with any and all community engagement techniques, online community engagement is not a panacea. It has advantages and disadvantages. It is a relatively easy technology for some and relatively more difficult for others. There are two critical messages… No technique can stand alone. And, just because a technique is new that doesn’t mean it has to solve every single problem to be worthwhile.
What follows is drawn from a post on Wikiversity about online education. Many of the comments and lessons are similar and familiar, particularly if you think about the community engagement process as a mutual learning space.
|Flexibility: accessible 24×7, any place as long as you have an internet connection||Text-based: Predominantly relies on inputting text which can be challenging for those who don’t like to write or have poor keyboard skills, but with the advance of broadband connectivity and voice and video conference technology – this will be less of an issue.|
|Levelling: reserved people who usually don’t speak up can say as much as they like while “loud” people are just another voice and can’t interrupt||No physical cues: without facial expressions and gestures or the ability to retract immediately there’s a big risk of misunderstanding|
|Documented: unlike verbal conversation, online discussion is lasting and can be revisited||Information overload: a large volume of messages can be overwhelming and hard to follow, even stress-inducing|
|Encourages reflection: participants don’t have to contribute until they’ve thought about the issue and feel ready||Threads: logical sequence of discussion is often broken by users not sticking to the topic (thread)|
|Relevance: provides a place for real life examples and experience to be exchanged||Time lag: even if you log on daily, 24 hours can seem like a long time if you’re waiting for a reply; and then the discussion could have moved on and left you behind|
|Choice: a quick question or comment, or a long reflective account are equally possible||Inefficient: it takes longer than verbal conversation and so it’s hard to reply to all the points in a message, easily leaving questions unanswered|
|Community: over time can develop into a supportive, stimulating community which participants come to regard as the high point of their course||Isolation: some learners prefer to learn on their own and don’t participate in the discussions|
|Limitless: you can never predict where the discussion will go; the unexpected often results in increased incidental learning||Directionless: participants used to having a teacher or instructor telling them what to do can find it a leaderless environment (and that’s where tutors come in|
Photo Credit: Good, Bad & Ugly by Nishanth Jois