Are you a good community member?

As part of my ongoing investigation into web-based tools to support teacher professional development, I recently moved into my free “office space” at Tapped In. Here it is:

Tapped In office

Tapped In is a virtual learning environment that is one part social network and one part collaborative conferencing tool with capabilities for real-time, text-based conversation (chat) as well as asynchronous discussion boards maintained by a sweeping array of public and private special interest groups. There are groups for alternative/correctional educators, math educators, and “cybrarians,” to name a few.

You can browse the calendar to get a sense of which groups are most active and vital.

SRI International launched Tapped In 10 years ago so school systems and other professional development providers could train teachers online at minimal cost. There are a number of “tenant” institutions, such as Pepperdine and the University of Memphis, that lease space on the Tapped In “campus” for purposes of supporting teacher education. (The site relies heavily on the campus metaphor to help users make sense of its elaborate interface.)

Individual membership is free to anyone over the age of 18 who is interested in education. Today there are more than 20,000 international members.

After completing a simple registration process, new members may join as many Tapped In groups as they want, and they may create two groups of their own. Other membership privileges include an editable professional profile viewable by all members as well as “office space.”

Jeff Cooper and David Weksler’s slide presentation about Tapped In, which they presented at the 2006 National Educational Computing Conference, answered many of my questions about Tapped In, including what is the purpose of the office. They recommend the office feature for individuals who do not already have a “virtual presence” on the Internet: “Hold office hours, meet with parents, peers, etc. ‘Decorate’ your office to reflect and express your professional self.”

Yet, with pages at Classroom 2.0 and School Matters as well as this blog to keep up, I was a little leery about setting up yet another virtual space to look after and keep tidy.

I edited my membership profile, uploaded a photo, participated in a virtual orientation of the interface, and joined in on a lively group discussion. All were positive and meaningful experiences, done without need for an office. So why bother creating one?

Tapped In veteran and community support representative BJ Berquist shed some light on that subject in a recent online encounter. She described editing the professional profile and setting up the office as minimal first steps for “taking ownership” of one’s Tapped In identity.

That phrase, “taking ownership,” really got me thinking.

I’ve spent some time in recent weeks trying to get a handle on the moderator’s role in these virtual learning communities. Some good discussion resulted at a Ning in Education forum, with moderator extraordinaire Steve Hargadon contributing some thoughts. And at the TechLearning Blog in a post titled Virtual Communities as a Canvas of Educational Reform, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach offered some helpful guidelines for what she calls the “community organizer.”

But in my quest to define the moderator’s role, I had completely overlooked the minimal standards for individual membership. What are they?

And I don’t mean codes of conduct, netiquette, or guidelines for appropriate use. I am talking about minimal expectations for participation and attitude to ensure each user a meaningful learning experience within the network (in addition to a safe, ethical and responsible one).

Is it possible to articulate these expectations, perhaps building upon Berquist’s suggestion?

What do you think?

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These are the communities where I network and cross-post. Come by for a visit!
Classroom 2.0
School Matters (East TN, USA)
Media Literacy

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