Our motto in my school division this year is, “I can learn here, I can believe here, I belong here”. When teachers can establish a true sense of community students will feel that they can learn there, that they can believe there, and that they belong there. When one feels that they belong many challenges are met with a sense of “I am not alone” and “WE can do this”.
Tonight, Rick Schwier was a guest speaker in our EC & I 831 class. We discussed what communities look like and what it means to be part of a community. Then taking those thoughts, we applied it to being a part of an online community. Not to be a naysayer, but I never really believed that one could sincerely feel part of a community online if the community was made up of people they didn’t know. In addition, I believed that it was establishing a false sense of friendship.
However, by the end of class tonight, my opinion has come full circle, especially when I look back to my school division’s motto. First, “I can learn here”. I am indeed learning, and when I come to a hurdle in EC & I 831 (and I have encountered many), there is always someone offering advice. Second, “I can believe here”. I can believe that the values and ideas I share will be respected. As we get to know each other and develop a sense of trust, this belief will strengthen. And finally, “I belong here”. It is fascinating watching the chat box and reading the stories shared and the questions that are then posed. It is obvious that our classmates genuinely want to get to know each other.
Therefore, are the online communities we belong to real? Yes, if our sense of belonging is being met it doesn’t matter if it is in the traditional sense. Think back to the day of having a pen pal. There were many pen pal relationships that lasted for years through ink and paper. For someone like my grandma, her pen pal was her best friend even though they had never met in person.
The internet is adding to what communities are and changing mindsets while bringing people together. Online communities are the evolved version of the 21st Century pen pals.