On Monday, August 20th, Leigh Blackall invited me to give a short talk to his class on building online communities. I chose to focus on the steps that I take every September in order to prepare an online space for my grade eight students. I don’t see it as a process of building a community but, rather, as a process of laying the foundations, of ensuring that the online environment I prepare can grow into a vibrant and engaging community characterized by meaningful and personally relevant interactions. The idea here is to ensure that the students see the online environment as their own – not merely an extension of the classroom, but a place where they feel free to interact and write as individuals.
The title of my presentation comes from a concept devised by an American urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg. My research on his work led me to an organization called Project for Public Spaces, a non-profit organization dedicated to creating public spaces and communities. Their diagram of the key attributes of great public spaces inspired me to try to relate their work to my experiences online.
Over the years, I have noticed that the online community that I build with my grade eight students every year often resembles a third place. I decided to investigate what contributes to this recurring development. I discovered that starting with the right foundations, ensuring that certain features and freedoms are in place before learning begins, can have a strong impact on the development of a classroom community and its potential movement away from what Oldenburg calls “second place” (a place of work) and towards a third place – an informal meeting place that can facilitate and support creative interaction.
This presentation is my attempt to explain how the right foundations can contribute to the emergence of a community that displays at least some characteristics of a third place.
(If you’re interested in the concept of third places, I highly recommend Teemu Arina’s presentation, Serendipity 2.0: Missing Third Places of Learning.)