She is right to be concerned! It is incredibly difficult in my experience to achieve the level of engagement required for an effective learning community. I have experienced the benefits of such a community as a learner, but have always struggled to get my students to engage as I would like them to. I think the main reason for this (if I'm being brutally honest) is that I have tended to use the concept of a community as an optional extra in my modules rather than fully integrating it. In order to operate effectively I think the idea of the community needs to be reflected in the learning outcomes and embedded in the learning activities and the assessment.
In the scenario presented, I would suggest the following approaches:
- The learning outcomes could include a reference to working collaboratively in an online environment.
- The scheduled learning activities could effectively require participation in, for example, discussion boards or wikis.
- The assessment criteria could require students to demonstrate how they have drawn on their participation in the community.
Additionally, I would refer again to the importance of learning design (apologies for going on about this all the time). The programme should be designed to build the community, rather than designed around the content with the community added on afterwards. Gilly Salmon promotes an approach to learning design which she calls Carpe Diem, and is based on her 'Five-stage model'.
Gilly Salmon's Five-stage model. Image source: http://www.gillysalmon.com/five-stage-model.html
Of particular relevance in the context of this scenario is that the first two stages involve 'access and motivation' and 'online socialisation', so the course is designed to ensure a transition into the community,
By coincidence, in my current seconded role, working on a university-wide project related to learning and teaching, I have been developing a framework for 'internal' communities of practice as a means of sharing best practice. This has been challenging to say the least, but I think we are making some progress and we are starting to get some buy-in from colleagues.
I'm going to cheat a bit here. I'm not going to create a comic, but I am going to include a graphic of the framework which I have developed with colleagues here at Westminster to show how we would like our communities to operate. This hasn't been approved internally yet, so it is still very much a work in progress.