Creating an online community for learning

Last week I wrote about my experiences in supporting teachers, and students to create practice portfolios. As a result of that work, I concluded there was a need for groups of learners to be able to work together in a shared online space. Now I do not mean a Learning Management System (such as Blackboard, WebCT or Moodle) but something they themselves control and manage themselves.

A number of teachers have raised with me the need for a simple online application where groups from within one class can work together. I have identified that staff groups who are working on academic projects also need an online knowledge based to ensure everyone knows what is happening and everyone has access to the key information.

The concepts and principles of online groups

In 2010 I wrote a paper, Is the Village Common in a Cloud, which I presented at the New Zealand Association for Cooperative Education conference in Palmerston North, New Zealand. In that paper, I referred to the ideas of Reynard (2009) who, identified the key challenge for educators is to ensure students have the confidence, learner autonomy and collaborative learning skills to participate in any learning community.  Reynard suggested this includes an online community.

In the United Kingdom Digizen is an organisation provides information for educators, parents, carers, and young people. It is used to strengthen their awareness and understanding of what digital citizenship is and encourages users of technology to be and become responsible DIGItal citiZENS. It shares specific advice and resources on issues such as social networking and cyberbullying and how these relate to and affect their own and other people’s online experiences and behaviours.   As part of their work they commissioned a report into the use of social networking services. The report from Childnet International (2007),  defines social networking services “…as Internet- or mobile-device-based social spaces designed to facilitate communication, collaboration and content sharing across networks of contacts.”

They note that while engaging in these social networking services students will:

Communicate with existing networks, make and develop friendships/contacts

  • Represent themselves online, create and develop an online presence
  • View content/find information
  • Create and customise profiles
  • Author and upload content
  • Add and share content
  • Post messages – public & private
  • Collaborate with other people

One of the concerns that many teachers, and students have about participating in online environments.  These are genuine and valid concerns that need to be addressed through learning more, practicing in safe environments. If you would like to know more about safe, and secure digital use, it is explained here in this short video.  There are very good support resources available from Digizen.

How to establish a safe online group?

After trying several different applications I have decided that Posterous groups in the best tool for a closed online learning group.  The tool is easy to use, easy to upload content and communicate with others.

Everyone knows how to use email, so getting started with a group makes a lot of sense.  The Posterous groups site will allow participant to upload photos, documents, videos and podcasts and they appear nicely presented for the whole group. Now all the key information the group needs to complete their project, or learning is available to everyone.  You can read more about the application here.

To help you get started, nominate a group leader, who will create the site.

Is the village common in a cloud


Childnet International (2007) Young people and social networking services, Childnet International Research Report reported on, archived at

Reynard, R., (2009, July 22, 2009) Beyond Social Networking: Building Toward Learning Communities. Blog posted to Campus Technology, archived at

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