When I became involved in the group assessment task for developing a model for an e-Learning community, I was at first, a little apprehensive about using a microblogging tool such as Twitter to enhance collaborative learning. Of course, we recognised that Twitter used alone, could not completely enhance all learning but together with other tools, could certainly help with deeper learning experiences. But it is not only the tools and technology that sustains the learning – it’s the focus of the people involved and the learning itself. In the model that our group developed, we believed that it was essential to have a moderator to bring equality to the community as well as create questions and pose problems of interest to help direct and maintain the generation of ideas.
I have also been a member of a Ning community for the purposes of posts, forums and blogging for a Masters subject and I was thinking about the ‘role’ played by our lecturer. I remember her mentioning that one of the new roles that is emerging in the elearning environment is that of community manager. As defined on the Wikipedia, a community manager is a person who works at building, growing and managing a community around a brand or cause. Jeremiah Owyang, an online community manager at Hitachi Data Systems believes that the role involves listening, responding, informing, shutting up and sitting back and then listening more. Looking back, I would certainly agree that the role that our lecturer played during the course of study would certainly have included all those functions – listen and reading posts, contributing to help ‘steer’ the path, responding when directly asked questions, etc – not only ‘managing’ the community but also participating as a member.
Jay Cross in his article ‘the future is people, not technology’ suggests that a community can benefit from people who can help ‘shape the vision and keep it consistent with the community’s orientations’. He suggests that ‘people learn more efficiently at the time of need, in the context of work and sometimes will be assisted by people in the know’. He believes that because traditional instructors and instructional designers understand how adults learn and how to transform information into learning, they can be deployed into a new capacity ie the community technology steward. He suggests that it would be possible for this person to:
- Bring new members up to speed with the community’s technology;
- Identify and spread good technology practices;
- Support community experimentation;
- Assure continuity across technology disruptions; and
- “Keep the lights on” (including backups, permissions, vendor payments and domain registrations).
Nancy White’s video What the ##%$^ is Technology Stewardship (2007) highlights that it is not ‘tools first – it’s the activity of the community to be supported’. She also mentions that it’s ‘not just the pattern of activities, but the people facilitating the integration between the tools and the community’. These people are the keystone to solving the complexity by adapting the tools to work to the communities quirks and practices. John Smith, Etienne Wenger and herself developed a definition for a Technology Steward as ‘a person with enough experience of the workings of a community to understand its technology needs, and enough experience with technology to take leadership in addressing those needs…. stewardship typically includes selecting and configuring technology, as well as supporting its use in the practice of the community’. Technology stewards are not there to control the community but to work with and for the community.
John Smith explains that ‘nobody wakes up spontaneously and says “I’m a technology steward” but he does believe that there needs to be someone who knows what they are talking about and to help with making choices and planning direction.
What an exciting time for traditional trainers to be redeployed into new and exciting roles?