Creating Community

What communities do you feel connected to? Why? Why do we need community? Benita and Melinda asked the same question this week. And I hope that I’ll leave you with one of many possible answers by the end of this post.

Whether fostering a community online or face-to-face, the instructor and students must establish expectations, participate in interactions, and develop communication skills. Like Schwier says, an environment doesn’t inherently develop into a community in which participants feel safe, belonging, committed and engaged. So, how do I plan to foster interactions using Canvas in my Music 9 prototype course?

Step #1 – Establish boundaries and participation rubric with students

Via edutech4teachers
                                     Via edutech4teachers
  • What rules are we going to follow in these spaces?
  • How often do you think you would need to participate for others to benefit from your contributions? Can you make this commitment?
  • What type of language are we going to use?
  • Learn about “Netiquette” and digital citizenship
  • Remember, chat comments cannot be deleted once they’ve been posted. You must be responsible.

Step #2 – Practice using the tools, explain their unique purposes/potentials

I plan to use the interactive and connective tools that are built into Canvas as the primary methods of communication: discussion, chat, conversations and conferences. We would practice using all of these tools and outline the expectations associated with each, before setting students “loose” to use them all.

The discussions section in Canvas allows responses to be organized by the question asked. Furthermore, students can add discussion questions if the instructor adjusts the settings to allow this. I would make sure that students would have access to this feature to increase the number of what Bryce-Davis calls “ringers,” which are new or unusual activities that “disrupt the established patterns and expectations just enough to renew interest” in the conversations. These discussions can be threaded, which allows members to focus in on particular comments of interest and follow that train of thought, rather than a stream of feed is more conducive to general comments. The threaded conversations help to ensure that discussion is organized and therefore potentially more meaningful and authentic. Small group options are available as well. Students can join particular focus groups based on interests or projects. Edutopia provides many suggestions in their Mastering Online Discussion Board Education Resource Guide. One idea is

“Instructional Discussion Boards should be used to meet specific course objectives and should be aligned with course content.”

For this reason, I would set the expectation for the discussion forum to be mostly related to the content of the course.

The chat section is a great option for students to socialize and build relationships. This area could be designed as a place for informal exchanges and for straight-forward student questions like, “When is this due?” or “What time are we meeting?”  It is important to note that comments in the chat cannot be deleted and are organized on a separate page from the discussion questions. Students would need to be aware of this ahead of time and know consequences for posting inappropriate comments.

Canvas also offers what they call Conversations, which is really just an email service. It’s a great option for one-on-one student-teacher interaction.

Finally, Canvas offers Conferences through a partnership with BigBlueButton, which is a web conferencing tool for synchronous online meetings, much like what we do with Zoom in EC&I 834. This option is ideal for group instruction or a more face-to-face feeling.

The combination of these tools is important. In his blog post this week, Adam said, “When looking for engagement amongst the class, it is vital to incorporate a number of different interaction opportunities.” The fact that Canvas has all of these tools within the same LMS means that students won’t need to check multiple providers to stay connected with their peers. When the log in to Canvas they will automatically be surrounded by opportunities to connect with each other in a variety of ways depending on the purpose of interaction.

Step #3 – Make the interactions meaningful, supportive and relevant

As I said before, setting expectations for each of the formats for interaction at the beginning of a course is crucial. The various forms of communication available, with students able to guide discussions, will make the interactions more meaningful than a strictly teacher-driven approach. Schwier says, “For a community to emerge, a learning environment must allow learners to engage each other intentionally and collectively in the transaction or transformation of knowledge. It isn’t enough that material is presented to people and they interact with the instruction. It isn’t enough that the learners interact with instructors to refine their understanding of material.”

Students also need to be taught the skill of asking critical or higher level questions for discussions to go beyond surface-level ideas and observations. Edutopia suggests teaching Bloom’s Taxonomy to ensure that students ask high-quality, purposeful questions.

Students need skills in research and citation as well, so that they find and support answers to their own and others’ questions.

However, my presence as the instructor in each of these areas will model meaningful and supportive interaction.

Schwier, 2001
                                Schwier, 2001

I think that required participation is also necessary, especially initially, to help students develop the habit of being a part of and contributing to the community. Icebreakers and introductions are important to developing historicity, which is an essential element of community.



I would also use rubrics for participation, as well as teacher, self, and peer evaluation to give students clear expectations and opportunities for feedback and self-reflection.

Step #4 – Troubleshooting

Edutopia helpfully outlines some Common Pitfalls so that educators embarking on this journey can avoid them. I think that I have planned for each of the concerns in my plan above. But the one that I feel I have the least control over is “Students may react in an inappropriate way by flaming other students or making disinterested or disrespectful comments to their peers or in response to assignments.” If this were to happen in a chat, there is one guide that says that the comment cannot be deleted. This is very concerning to me. If one student chooses to make a bad decision, it wouldn’t go away. I’ve emailed Canvas to ask why they’ve chosen this.

Step #5 – Learn!

By Frankieleon via Flickr
                                                                                By Frankieleon via Flickr

The primary benefit of creating a blended learning environment where students can connect online is that it improves the likelihood that they will learn more. Amy noted this in her blog post this week as well.  George Siemens’ Theory of Connectivity highlights the importance of networks in learning. I know this has certainly been true of my experience in EC&I 834.


Activism is a Click Away

What was the last social justice cause that you supported by liking a post, sharing an article or retweeting? Did you do so because you were passionate about the subject? Because it would increase your social status given your online network of relatively like-minded people? Because it felt good to help in some way? Because you thought it would make a difference?


Photo Credit: Pixabay

Activism takes many forms. A person may donate funds, volunteer their time and skills, or become informed and inform others. All of these things can be done using social media, including live streaming, and/or physical action. Although some argue that slacktivism is lazy, selfish or even harmful, ultimately all attempts to create a better world do affect change in some way. Gillian Branstetter even argues that “the Internet is more than an accessory to the real-world actions that change demands—it’s now a proven way to make it happen.” In fact, a Georgetown University study showed that “those who support movements online are actually more likely to engage in activism in real life.”

Well, that’s a relief. I can continue liking and retweeting for social justice guilt-free. But is that enough? What does it really take to affect meaningful change? I think that meaningful change happens when people become educated through disruption of dominant discourse and then change their own ideas and behavior. Language is powerful in constructing and reproducing expectations, roles, identities, and behaviors. And what is social media, if not language? So like, retweet, and share away, my friends.

Social Media: Who are you and who will you become?

When was the first time that you tried “Googling” yourself? We’ve all done it.

Google Search Bar

For me, it was right after my guidance counselor told our graduating class that post-secondary institutions would be looking at our Facebook and Myspace pages in addition to our applications and resumes when deciding who would “make the cut.” I didn’t use either of those social media sites at the time, but a couple of things did come up: an article about an award that I had received through the school division and a local news article about our basketball team (I was noted for getting fouled out). All of the other results were related to my cousin’s hockey career (we shared the same last name) and my great-uncle’s  memoirs from our town’s centennial celebrations (we also shared the same last name). My digital identity was pretty lame. It didn’t reflect my true identity.

After reading the articles for this week’s class, I found myself curious about what I would find this time in a Google search of myself. The results were very different. This time results from my gravatar, Facebook, my school’s website, Twitter, my blog, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, FlipQuiz and the Saskatchewan Cheerleading Association 2014 AGM came up. (Not all of the results were for my accounts, but other Sarah Wandys in the world.)

Google search 1

Google search 2

Google search 3

Google search 4

My digital identity has evolved, and I’m proud of how it represents me professionally as an educator and volunteer, and also personally. But after reading Bonnie Stewart’s blog post “What your New Year’s Facebook Posts Really Mean,” I wondered how much these social media sites reflect who I am/was independently of them, and how much they have actually shaped who I have become. Stewart says, “Social media is where we are deciding who we are, not just as individual digital identities but AS A PEOPLE, A SOCIETY.” If this is true, then it is a relationship between what I have engaged with on social media and how I have responded to it that has created my digital identity, keeping in mind that I assume a global audience so I sensor everything I share.

I’m not the only young person who is taking care to manage their digital footprint. A study by Madden and Smith, “Reputation Management and Social Media” suggests that “Young adults are the most active online reputation managers in several dimensions. When compared with older users, they more often customize what they share and whom they share it with.” They are becoming more digitally literate and better digital citizens. This is important because customers, employers, neighbors and dates are more likely than ever before to search you up on the internet.

Because people seeking employment know that employers will search them on the internet, some have proactively begun to create online profiles or portfolios to make a good impression and provide links to examples of their skills and abilities rather than simply listing them on a resume. One man, Alec Brownstein, even used Google AdWords to connect with desirable employers. When the creative directors he wanted to work for Googled themselves, they would get an advertisement at the top of the search results introducing them to Brownstein. He ended up receiving two job offers. What we share has immediate and long-term affects, both positive and negative.

I tried searching my maiden name again, just to see what the results would be. Sure enough, the same articles about my award and basketball game appeared, although several pages into the search. Still, I was able to find them.

Every tweet, every blog comment, every Facebook post, every Instagram picture, every AGM report, and every Pin is a snapshot of your identity, and more importantly an opportunity to consider who you want to become.

Anonymity on Social Media

Do you present yourself in the same way online as you do offline?

An essential part of digital citizenship is based on ensuring a positive digital identity through consideration of digital etiquette and digital rights and responsibilities. Teenagers in particular are encouraged by their parents and teachers to think about how they present themselves online for their safety, the well-being of others, and their futures. Some common mantras they hear are: “Would you want grandma to see that?” and “Whatever you share is out there forever.”


Photo Credit: Nate Grigg

So, many teens escape this scrutiny of family members by joining narrowcast tools like Snapchat, while other people are opting for anonymity. What does this anonymity allow?

Anonymity gives people the freedom to discuss controversial topics without repercussion. It is easier to say what you really believe when no one is going to hold you accountable outside of the space where you make anonymous comments. So while some people may feel that anonymity is positive because it allows people to disrupt racism or misogyny without being trolled, ultimately, that same anonymity protects the racists and misogynists and grants them permission to perpetuate hate. Really, anonymity is most useful if you are saying something that you should not; otherwise, it is important to attach your identity to social justice issues and stand up for what you believe in.

Some social media are going out of their way to provide users with the opportunity to remain anonymous. Here are some examples:

Yik Yak, an app that targets other anonymous users within close proximity, has been linked to threats, pranks and cyberbullying at schools across North America. Although the app has potential to be a great networking tool, some users abuse their anonymity making the app a cyberbullying threat.

Kik is another app that offers the opportunity to be whoever you want. While the app is designed to be a fun messaging service, Julia Carrie Wong’s article “What is Kik and should your child be using it?” states that “In January, for example, a 25-year-old Louisiana man was convicted of using Kik to extort young girls into providing him with nude photographs. The perpetrator pretended to be a young girl himself in order to persuade 45 victims, aged 8-14, to share child abuse material with him.” The app is not designed to improve the effectiveness of criminals, but again, anonymity poses a threat.

4chan is an example of a social forum that advocates for anonymity and functions as something of a safe space to discuss any interest or curiosity. 4chan is not “inherently evil,”  but anonymity has allowed the site to leak nude celebrity pictures, encourage iPhone users to microwave their phones, and make fake bomb threats. 4chan provides a place where any kind of mischief is wholly possible.

Tanith Carey’s article “Why teenagers are ‘self-trolling’ on websites like Reddit” states that some of our children are bullying themselves, either by adopting fake online identities to attack themselves or inviting strangers to do it for them. It’s a phenomenon known as cyber self-harm. Even in spaces where anonymity is not part of the philosophy, some will create fake online identities to create a sense of anonymity that offers youth the opportunity to not only harm others, but also themselves.

Ultimately, I revist the question that I posed in my blog from last week. Here is what a few readers said then. Does this discussion of anonymous social media change your mind? Please continue to vote.