The answer to this question is any community you like. We are all part of a community both large and small, global and local but it is easy to be part of a community and not be aware of either your role within it or the role it plays in your life. As an educator you are of course part of the education community but within the lecture space the community consists of yourself and your students. This can be an engaged and vibrant community but it can also be a community limited by both its location and population.
The opportunity that #ConnectedClasses offers to develop connections with existing communities is therefore both exciting and hugely beneficial to both the students learning, confidence and appreciation of their place within a larger community. When working with students whose learning is practice focused the communities they connect with can also be greatly beneficial in their networking with existing practitioners outside of the academic environment.
Therefore the communities you choose to reach out to and interact with will be dependent on the areas of interest and study your students have. These communities can be defined by the ‘umbrella’ question you have set for your classes but also from the students learning outside of the #ConnectedClasses format. The question I am most often asked at this point is how do I find and connect with these communities if I am new to Twitter and/or how do I create my own community and why should I?
What is a Community and Why is it Important?
When talking about communities I always find myself using the analogy of a traditional print publishing model. A magazine or a newspaper is a platform of edited and curated content, aimed at a specific market and demographic. That market and demographic are described as a readership or audience but in effect they are a community of people who share the same interests and views on similar subjects.
If you see your Twitter account as a magazine or newspaper and adopt a publishing approach to what you Tweet and Re-Tweet then you will build a community on the same basis as a traditional publishing model but within a digital age with you as writer, editor and publisher combined.
That community will then engage with you on the basis of those shared opinions and content and in turn you will be able to engage with it to further inform your outlook and that of the students. You and your students will then have a readership and audience based on mutual interaction.
This is incredibly empowering and places the students into the community they will want to be part of at the end of their studying whilst they are still part of the education system. This immediately gives a sense of confidence and achievement and a sense of belonging to students who may feel intimidated by the concept of a community far removed from their personal experiences up until that point.
First Steps in Building a Community…
The easiest way to start building a community on Twitter is to find someone who you feel you want to follow on a professional basis who has an established following. See who they are following and follow any of those people that you feel are relevant to your own practice, then follow those who follow them who you also feel should be part of the community you want to build. Many people will automatically follow you back, but to encourage engagement you should begin to re-tweet those that you are following to demonstrate your empathy and interest in what they are saying. These re-tweets immediately start to provide you with Twitter content and start to define your editorial position and therefore the type of community you will build.
At this point there is no need to tweet. Take your time and begin tweeting as you become more comfortable with the process and the tone of voice you wish to adopt online.
You will not build a community over night and it will take time and some work, but it is worthwhile. Once you have built your community you will be able to use it to open out your teaching to that community and introduce your students to that community allowing them to make their own decisions as to how they engage with it. You will also be able to invite that community to join your classes and make them truly ‘open’.
A Common Mistake to Make…
It is a misconception to believe that all of your students are going to be more engaged, connected and experienced with social media platforms than you are. In my experience visiting colleges and high schools it is astonishing how few students are actively engaged with any social media platforms other than Facebook and SnapChat. The former is seen as being very ‘last year’ and only useful for connecting with family and family friends. Whilst SnapChat (which has massive student adoption) for ‘throw away’ fun communication with friends of a similar age.
Their sense of the online community within the context of industry/business/learning is therefore both unformed and uninformed. This lack of awareness presents an opportunity for the teacher inexperienced in online interaction to share in the learning journey of their students, with an opportunity to demonstrate practical empathy for the issues students may have in building their own community’s.