More on multiple communities

Hodgson & Reynolds’ (2005) assertion that networked learning can support the possibility for overlapping subgroups, formal and informal, to coexist appeals to me. Subgroups would offer students who “felt they had less speaking time than others” more airtime, by blurring the private and public spaces, which should result in the design of a more equitable learning environment.

Applying theories like these, however, tends to be problematic. For example, if students feel othered, would they want to participate in a subgroup? Certainly, if they could choose a subgroup, they might feel more engaged and participate more than if there was only one dominant community in which they felt completely peripheral. And, from the teacher’s perspective, she or he only has to deal with subgroups of students, which may be easier than dealing with individual cases. However, what if a student just felt like he or she did not belong in any of the subgroups?

Further, what if the subgroups were providing support needed to bring issues into a more public arena, but these issues were not ones that the other subgroups would want to support or condone? On the bright side, this might encourage innovation, but there’s a darker side, as well. Do we want to increase the social capital in subgroups regardless of what they have in common? This latter argument is similar to the one critics voiced against Putnam (1995). Princeton graduate students’ satirical phrase, “Bowling with Hitler” is intentionally extreme, but I worry nevertheless. More thoughts later.


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