Sunday, September 04, 2005

Online Classroom as a Hybrid Place

From Cats in the classroom: Online learning in hybrid space, posted on FirstMonday:
It is not necessary for all of us to look at the same ugly carpet to create knowledge together successfully.
In this article by Michelle Kazmer, there's an interesting exploration of the idea that people who are learning together online are sharing an online space (or "place," as Michelle prefers to call online classrooms) while at the same time all occupying physical spaces. She points out that these physical spaces have an effect on what the virtual learning space becomes:
students occupy online space at the same time they are occupying and engaging with their local physical space; and the circumstances of their physical surroundings shape the shared online space.
This article made me think of my previous post, in which I pointed out that I cross paths with all these people who are busy doing other things, but then we all end up in a meeting together. People in online classrooms are crossing paths, too. And just as our awareness, in the physical world, of where people have been and where they are going can help us shape community, I suspect that awareness of others' physical spaces can contribute to community building, too. I wonder if Nancy White would call this another community indicator?

I'm not sure I do this anymore (or if I'm just not conscious of it), but in phone calls I used to always picture the place where the person on the other end of the line was while talking to me. If it was someone who's home or office I hadn't seen, I'd sometimes get flustered not being able to "see" the person in their environs. Other times, I've just made up their home or office. (As I type, I'm realizing that I do indeed still do this--and every poor telemarketer or customer service person I talk to shares the same boring cubicle with every other one.)

Don't know what all this means. Maybe we really need to have a sense of physical space. Actually, I think Michelle's got it right in saying that it's not about space, but about place.

In any case, it's fun to think about the online classroom as a kind of virtual nexus of physical worlds, and what the implication is for community building.

(Here's an idea I posted in my e-teaching coach blog related to this.)

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