On Friday I got back from a four-day trip to Beirut where I was working with a large teaching organisation that operates in the area.

On Friday I got back from a four-day trip to Beirut where I was working with a large teaching organisation that operates in the area. I went to talk to them about virtual learning platforms, community platforms and to help them plan their forthcoming teacher and learning platform.

I do a lot of this kind of work over the year - you'll have read elsewhere about the projects in South-East Asia and Russia - and each community is a little different from the last. They usually have much in common, but it's the specifics of each community of teachers that give each community they're own look and feel - and their greater usefulness to the users

So I've been wondering what the most desirable features are for each community and I wondered if you could help me out and share your thoughts. I know you all like this community, since you're all members - but what general features of a community are the most useful for teachers? Is it resources like lesson plans, handouts, etc., or social elements such as forums, discussions...

And by the way, if you ever get a chance to go to Beirut, I would jump at it - beautiful city, great people, delicious food and wine and a really nice feel when you wander around...

I look forward to hearing from you.



Gavin's now finished blogging on the site - check the Guest Writers page to see who our current blogger is.


For me the most enriching part of being involved in a community are the relationships that evolve, discussions, support, collaboration, and exchange of resources. I enjoy connecting my classes with other classes globally. Beyond this, I like when we can help each other out, because we cannot know the answers to everything or be great at everything. I feel rejuvenated after collaborating with other educators. Before participating in my community I would just filter through the millions of online resources and materials. The search itself would wear me out too much that I lost the initial excitement of using online materials to supplement my lesson. Now, my community shares with me an exciting resource they found and I feel excited and my creativity juices begin rolling on how to use it! Lessons are more exciting for my students this way!

Shelly,Good to see you over here, and many thanks for your thoughts. I know you're very active in several communities and on Twitter and I tend to think that you get what you put in - lots of us belong to a variety of communities and we share a lot on a daily basis - the balance is important, each member needs to give something back to a community as well as taking things from it, and - where useful - sharing those things with the other communities s/he is a member of. This cross-pollination is an amazingly powerful thing.I note that it's not so much 'resources' for you, but the 'conversation: relationships, support, collaboration all come before resources in your lits. Or maybe I'm reading too much into it? You're right about the support issue, though - only yesterday I got quick answers to two technical issues I had, both from Twitter - and both within ten minutes. I was also able to answer two other questions. And maybe that's a big part of it - the big network of help.If the knock on effect of all this contact and communication is more stimulating lessons, then I'm all for it.Gavin

 For me the most useful features of a given community are the ones that enable people to communicate and share ideas. Usually people from various parts of the world have completely different views on teaching or learning. It's amazing when you read somebody's ideas and think 'Wow! I would have never thought about that!'.Forums and discussions also make you get to know certain people better providing in this way multiple opportunities for cooperation on and offline.On the other hand, some networks frequently become 'dead' i.e. their members are not willing to communicate or the admin does not care about what s/he 's created. There are quite a lot of these on Ning.I'm still pretty new on Twitter but find it quite useful. The only problem is that there seems to be too much information flowing through. If you can't afford to spend your whole day in front of the computer you miss out a lot. It's awesome to follow people you admire and know what they think but at the same time, 70% of what I see on Twitter are dialogues between people I follow which is not really what I'm interested in.So far, this community seems to work out for me best. Why? It is well organized and created for teachers of English as a foreign language, not (English) teachers in general. Most important, it is not all about using technology in the classroom like so many other popular sites.Personally, I feel tired of reading about 89 ways of using Facebook with your students or 73 applications that will make your life easier. Sure it's useful as the world is becoming more and more technology oriented but how many teachers of English around the globe actually have the opportunity to put all these fancy ideas about Web 2.0 into practice? 1%? Sorry for being blunt. Guess I got carried away or maybe it's my style to swim against the current :)Anita

Dear GavinI enjoy being part of many online communities.  Being part of online communities has helped me grow professionally. I come in contact with people.  It is pleasure sharing our experience with one another.  I enjoy taking part in forums and discussion groups. Online environment is more attractive than classroom environment.  Albert

Welcome back!Those 'wow' moments are important, I think - they keep us interested and give us a chance to look at things in different ways. As you say, communities tend to wax and wane in terms of output and production, and I had some thoughts on that a while back on my blog.I did a talk on communities the last time I was in Russia, and one of the resources I found really interesting was 90-9-1 - worth a look, if only to make people who run their own communities feel a little better about the numbers of people actively involved.One of the things I like about Twitter is that it is one of those 'always on' things, and part of learning how to use it is coming to the acceptance that you will miss things while you're sleeping at work, etc. However, I quite liked a recent tweet from Graham Davis:"I don't suffer from information overload. If the information is important it will find me!"http://twitter.com/daisybundle/status/5246966957And I think he has a point - if someone really needs you to know something, they'll get that information to you somehow. I agree entirely with you about this BC community - it's an excellent resource, well-made, easy to navigate, loads of good content, etc.And your 'bluntness' is fine - you're right, it's not all about technology. That just happens to be the area I work in, but there's plenty of space for everyone and everyone's interests. What technology does, I guess, is mediate even the discussions about not using technology. And for that, at least, it's vital.Thanks for sharing your thoughts.Gavin

Albert,Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this blog. I'm absolutely convinced that lots of professional development can and does happen online, both formally and informaly, but when you say it's more attractive than the classroom environment, can you explain a bit more about that - from your point of view?Gavin

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