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.


  1. Hello Jacinta,

    great to see you blogging out here. You've offered so much energy and so many ideas within the flexi.learni community. i enjoyed your threads around MySpace especially.

    Sorry i missed exactly what happened, but it sounds like you had an awful experience.

    Hope you're managing to build up your resilience and safety again.

    BLogging is a different way to express yourself, because it's *your* space, and your ideas are what matters here.

    Lookin forward to following your ideas more. Kind regards and all the best, michael

  2. Hi Michael, great to see you too. Alex Hayes got me off my behind to enter the blogosphere and I am glad I did. Alex and I along with others are starting up our own little group, well it is growing,to explore social networking tools, their growth, use in education and industry along with NFP etc. We are hoping within our network to individually and collectively share, learn, collaborate in an effort to provide clear examples of the explicit need for learners, educators and parents to become safe users and understand how these environments are used, by whom and why.
    We are concerned about the fear campaigns that begun in NSW, leading to community support for the education department to block ALL tools from all educational environments and the spreading of the fear and the blocking that has begun in other states already.
    I will write to my hearts content on my blog and you know, I love it, my ideas from my head alone at times or inspired by an event or others work, right or wrong, it is what I am thinking at the time. So nice to be able to ramble as sometimes something good comes out.
    We would love you to join us on our way as you have always had the most creative ideas and ways of looking at things that none of us could see until you brought it to our attention.
    I have set up an ourspaces on ning so you can join us there now (already international experts are becoming friends and boy have they already done a lot out there). We also have an application into Edna for our own community, one where we will also explore the changing face of online communities, try and model through doing a community where all are acknowledged for the value they bring through discourse and we hope to embed in the community, links to social networking tools that others in the community/network are using. We hope as a collective our community will develop its own way of being and doing, free from harm and even fun to be a part of.
    Ambitious maybe but essential we feel as with the current censorship and blocking all I can see is educational institutions, locking learners out of the very worlds they know and educators who wish to use the tools for learning being reduced to only using TAFE VC, death by powerpoint or other measures that the institutions can control. Sad, as in the business arena, I can not show my learners what I have done, show them examples of what others are doing etc, I am reduced to providing them with links via TAFEVC, so that they can explore at home - odd as I would have thought, marketing, advertising learners benefiting greatly through their knowledge and engagement of such tools, especially when the business world is using them more and more.
    Okay, stopping the ramble - hope you will think about being involved as you would bring so much to all of us.
    Oh, on the community, google, Kathy Sierra:Jacinta Gascoigne and you will see what went on and why I do not feel safe at the hands of those in charge of the community I have gained so much from over the years. I hope lessons are learned and that the community thrives, it just no longer holds a place for me and that is a personal decision, not one that should discourage others, if it does then it would be a great shame.
    See you soon out here and thanks for everything.


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