Questioning Community

The following blog post developed out of a larger research project that explored best practices for building a sense of community within online/blended classrooms. That study was supported by a Faculty Fellowship from CI’s Teaching & Learning Innovations Team, and was conducted by Kellie Prather (undergraduate student at CI), Brandon Burns (undergraduate student at CI), Maia Smidt (undergraduate student at CI), and J. Jacob Jenkins (Assistant Professor of Communication at CI).
This post is part three of three part series.

Research has consistently shown how a sense of community positively impacts student performance in the classroom (Morgan, 2011; see also Elliott, Gamino, & Jenkins, 2016; Jenkins, 2014). What does this then mean, then, for blended courses that are only in the classroom 30-70% of the time?  Answer: It means these instructors must be even much more cognizant of how they optimize their in-class time for the purpose of building and fostering community.

One way to be more cognizant about community building within blended courses is to consider Puddifoot’s (1995) six elements of community identity: locus, distinctiveness, identification, orientation, quality, and functionality. Although these six elements speak to community building in general, we can adapt them for our discussion on blended classrooms by learning to ask the following questions.

1. Locus

The first element of Puddifoot’s (1995) community identity is locus – characterized by the members’ perception of a community’s physical and social boundaries (p. 365-367). To adapt this aspect of community for the blended classroom, we must ask ourselves:

  • What are the physical boundaries surrounding this assignment? Are students confined to desks? Are they rotated around a number of stations throughout the class period? Are they confined to the classroom at all?
  • What are the social boundaries surrounding this assignment? Are students working in groups or are they free to interact with anyone in the room?  Are members fixed to these groups or do members form new groups throughout the assignment, class period, or semester? Are these groups assigned or are students free to choose?

Different boundaries foster different types of community, so the goal is to be mindful and thoughtful of the boundaries we are setting, as well as the reason for setting them. Assigning students to groups can help them interact with new people, for instance, whereas allowing them to choose their own groups can help them cultivate existing relationships. As another example, confining students to desks can help build micro-communities, whereas rotating students through stations can help build a unified community. We should consider conducting our in-class periods with a variety of physical and social boundaries.

2. Distinctiveness

As the second element of Puddifoot’s (1995) community identity, distinctiveness is concerned with the members’ perception of what makes their community unique from others (p. 365-367). To adapt this aspect of community for the blended classroom, we must ask ourselves:

  • How is this course different from other courses? As a community designed around a specific subject, what differentiates it from communities designed around other subjects?
  • How is this section different from other sections? As a community designed around a specific course, what differentiates it from other sections of the same course?
  • How are the micro-communities different from others? As several micro-communities emerge from within a given course, what differentiates those communities from one another?

Here, our goal is to help students differentiate the community felt within their blended course from other courses they’re currently enrolled in.

3. Identification

Identification is characterized by Puddifoot (1995) as the members’ level of association with a particular community (p. 365-367). To adapt this aspect of community for the blended classroom, we must ask ourselves:

  • What opportunities does this assignment give students to share personal information with one another? Is there room in the assignment for personal conversation? Does the assignment foster genuine and transparent communication?

Educators may find it beneficial to assign in-class projects that ask students to share relevant personal experiences with one another.

4. Orientation

Puddifoot’s (1995) fourth element of community identity – orientation – can be characterized by the members’ personal investment in a community (p. 365-367). To adapt this aspect of community for the blended classroom, we must ask ourselves:

  • How does this assignment provide students with opportunities to share their ideas? Is there room in the assignment for students to collaborate creatively? What opportunities do students have to offer support for one another?

Essentially, we should provide students with the ability to share their ideas and to see those ideas through to fruition.

5. Quality

This element of community identity is essentially defined by the members’ overall quality of life (Puddifoot, 1995, p. 365-367). To adapt this aspect of community for the blended classroom, we must ask ourselves:

  • How does this assignment provide students with opportunity for social interaction? Are students given an opportunity to socialize or is this an individual assignment? Is interaction within this assignment largely formal or informal?

Educators should view each assignment through the lens of this element. If the assignment is not social in nature, it may be better suited as an online assignment since it fails to take advantage of the students’ limited in-class time. Additionally, educators may consider conducting in-class assignments that promote both formal and informal interactions.

6. Functionality

Finally, functionality is characterized by how practical a community is for its members (Puddifoot, 1995, p. 365-367). To adapt this aspect of community for the blended classroom, we must ask ourselves:

  • How does this assignment practically help this student? Outside of this class, how would participating in this assignment benefit each student? What is the purpose of this assignment toward the course’s SLOs?

Here, the goal is to ensure the usefulness of each assignment. Assignments can’t merely be enjoyable; they must to be purposeful as well!

Never Stop Questioning

In conclusion, instructors of blended courses must learn to optimize their in-class time for the purpose of building and fostering classroom community. One way to do this is to adapt Puddifoot’s (1995) six elements of community identity for the blended classroom (see also Puddifoot, 1994, 1996, 1997, 3003).

In order to successfully do so, however, we must first learn to ask the right questions.

And then we must never stop questioning those answers.

Works Cited

Elliott, D., Gamino, M., & Jenkins, J. J. (2016). Creating community in the college classroom:

Best practices for increased student success. International Journal of Education and            Social Science, 3(6).

Jenkins, J. J. (2014). The diversity paradox: Seeking community in an intercultural church. New     York: Lexington Books.

Morgan, T. (2011). Online classroom or community-in-the-making?: Instructor

conceptualizations and teaching presence in international online contexts. Journal     of Distance Education, 25(1), 1-14.

Puddifoot, J. E. (1994). Community identity and sense of belonging in a northeastern English         town. The Journal of social psychology134(5), 601-608.

Puddifoot, J. E. (1995). Dimensions of community identity. Journal of Community & Applied        Social Psychology, 5(5), 357-370.

Puddifoot, J. E. (1996). Some initial considerations in the measurement of community         identity. Journal of community psychology24(4), 327-336.

Puddifoot, J. E. (1997). Psychological reaction to perceived erasure of community   boundaries. The Journal of social psychology137(3), 343-355.

Puddifoot, J. E. (2003). Exploring “personal” and “shared” sense of community identity in Durham City, England. Journal of community psychology31(1), 87-106.

 

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