Sunday, 22 April 2007
The Future of Online Professional Communities
Recent events, have afforded me the opportunity to sit and reflect. Reflection on my place within a professional forum, I have been a part of since the early 2000's AFLF . Over the years, the Forum or Community, has provided me with an environment that connected and engaged me, with many others in the e-learning world, predominantly within the Australian VTE system. The reach expanding overtime reflecting a more cross sectoral membership - Primary, Secondary, University, Industry and International guests and members. I have shared my learning, experiences and thoughts, collaborated in research and the development of materials, engaged in online conferences, learned more than I thought I ever could from others willing to openly share their own learning, experiences and thoughts, been kept up to date with the latest changes in e-learning and that is no mean feat as we all know. The community was often a breath of fresh air. A place I could go and connect with others with a passion and unquenchable thirst for learning and the spirit of sharing. At the end of a day on campus, where you have been running from people, wanting to stop you mention anything 'e', the respite within the community and the connectedness felt upon entering, helped make the day worthwhile. Now, the community for me, has become a place that is not safe, something died recently and has forced me into finding an environment where I can feel safe and continue to share and learn. Why? Some may think it is because of the posts that were made and the subsequent emails I received but that is not the reason. Yes, I was 'freaked out', I questioned my actions and over and over as if looking for a reason as to why I deserved, what I got. 'I must have done something wrong'. With those irrational thoughts taken out of the equation, I was determined to go back into the community and post, as if nothing happened, keep the flow and show others that they would not be intimidated and also ensure all were aware of how the members had rallied around me, with a protective forcefield, to protect not only my credibility but 'me' the person'. The compassion and the efforts made will never be forgotten. So, what is it? Why do I not wish to enter a community proven to be of great value in ones own learning, proven to have a heart and soul? Surely such a place is what dreams are made of and are rare gems in a myriad of learning communities, for them to be a reality in ones life, should never be thrown away. Unfortunately, those managing operations have requested that I not post for 'the time being'. I was a little shocked I must admit and as the only reason I have been given has been 'management are looking into the issues', I am still perplexed. Why? Management, continued to allow a new member, who had been abusive etc, to post long after complaints were made and after I had been asked not to post. The abuse was directed at others, as I was not there. It appears that he was only banned or barred after he made two passing shots and everyone, cited and bible scripture and changed his icon from an 'eye' to what appears to be 'osama bin laden' or similar person. I sit here even now wondering why I was removed, yet someone negative and abusive, placing people in fear was allowed to continue wreaking havoc and spewing their bile and vitriol at the community and it's members. For me now there is only one answer, if I am to be removed from a community that I was invited into for no good reason that I can see, apart from silencing me, and others who abuse people and one for many years remain, and members afforded little protection, then I need to find another environment in which to continue sharing and learning. One where I am in control and can select those I wish to work with, one where I can block any potential dangers. What is the future then of online communities? Those that I have been engaged in over the years have been established by organisations and therefore centralised, run by a team who monitor,control and provide the direction of the learning, to achieve a range of outcomes, of which are reported on regularly to those who provide the funding. They choose the platform for their target audience. Members are invited to engage in monthly sessions on new topics, provided with on line learning opportunities, take part in online events and conferences and the like. Is this how they will continue or with the advent of more and more Web 2.0- Web 3.0 technologies will we see greater decentralization? I suggest that we are going to see individuals, including professionals, researching and identifying their particular needs and creating or having created by others, the best environment for their work, sharing, learning, collaboration. The environment that will be the best value add, the best ROI. I suggest the term 'mash up' and others similar that will be created, will become a household and workplace name. People everywhere working within environments they created or are tailored for them. Environments that they can keep safe, environments that individuals control. The next step in my journey is to find such an environment, maybe blogger will be it, maybe I will also have a myspace, or maybe someone out there will accept a wish list from me and develop an environment that I feel provides me with the functionality to continue to connect, engage, collaborate, share and learn.