According to media scholar, Henry Jenkins, characteristics of a participatory culture include the following:
- relatively low barriers to engagement
- strong support for sharing with others
- informal mentorship
- participants believe their contributions matter
- not every participant must contribute every time, but all must feel they are free to contribute when they are ready and that what they contribute will be appropriately valued.
Jenkins goes on to say, “Software can’t make a non-participatory culture into one.” Software can be used to facilitate the participatory nature of a community, but tools alone won’t do the job. Community is about people and their connections to one another. Creating social connections that support and nurture participation requires intentional actions to build and nurture relationships.
The activities of a community of practice are dependent on an environment of mutual respect and trust, which encourages a willingness to:
- share ideas
- expose one’s knowledge gaps
- ask difficult questions, and
- listen carefully.
For online communities of practices especially, relationships are fostered by frequent synchronous and asynchronous interaction. Creating a sense of presence for other community members is essential for keeping individuals actively engaged with the community.
After the initial rush to put learning events online in the last decade, it’s been clearly established that the more effective practice is blended learning. Blended learning is a purposeful combination of face-to-face and virtual learning events.
Use face-to-face meetings
Participants in recent communities of practice have reported over and over again that the most valuable activity of the community was the face-to-face meetings at the beginning of the project. These one or two-day sessions create an opportunity for participants to meet each other, clarify the purpose of the community, and begin to develop working relationships with one another.
Goals for an initial face-to-face session typically include:
- Helping participants find areas of common interest as educators
- Reviewing goals and rationales, and creating opportunities for individuals and teams to set goals of their own
- Creating common understandings of terms, concepts, and processes that will be explored throughout the year
- Creating time for participants to explore technologies that will be used throughout the project.
For sample activities for relationship building see Connect with others