Download the PDF version of this brief

As Connect and Inspire: Online Communities of Practice in Education makes clear, launching a successful online community of practice is much more than a technology project and requires a thoughtful strategy that considers the community’s goals, incentives, roles, content, and many other nontechnological criteria. That said, the technology must support the types of valuable interactions that will make participation worthwhile for community members. Because there are dozens of collaboration platforms and tools, each with different permutations of features, choosing the configuration can be overwhelming. Countless collaboration initiatives have failed after extensive requirement-gathering and platform-evaluation efforts that focused on technology—at the expense of goal-setting and planning for the activities the technology needed to support. It is far too easy for the technology component of a collaboration project to take on a life of its own and miss the big picture. The solution is to engage in some careful planning but also start small, focusing on a narrow audience and set of features. We explain this approach in more detail in what follows.

Next: Community Planning

49 Responses to Technology for Online Communities of Practice

  1. Kathy Grundei says:

    This article is a “must read” for anyone who is starting an on-line community. I appreciated the road map of key points that the authors described in order for a successful community to be created. The explanation of Interaction Tools, Community Tools, Functions etc all very helpful in understanding all the parameters of creating on-line community. But, the most important point is that the intended community sees a need to make the on-line community site a priority and will contribute to the community with posts, exchanging information, etc.

    The years that I was a teacher with 300 students in a week..time was such a crunch. Often times I found on-line communities for professional development taking too much time to belong with little satisfaction for information, ideas, thoughtful conversation about certain topics I was interested in. Simple to navigate, straight and direct purpose usually kept me in the community rather than an elaborate site. Sometimes the community would grow to such a huge complex site that the size and complexity of the site would signal my need to leave the community-too much time to navigate, read, etc. Blogging, discussion forums, chats..all added as the site grew and added complexity and more time required to participate in the community. Growing a community is important but how the designers of the site handle the expanding community members is so critical.

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  2. zane schaefer says:

    “Technologies for Online Communities Practice” is a well articulated broad stroke of information full of information regarding the “whys” and “how to’s” of online communication. The article highlights the wide variety of online needs in today’s world and points to possible strategies and tools to meet those needs. It underscores the reality of building online communities in a world full of folks “who tend to be busy, impatient with technology, and already suffering from information overload related to their professional responsibilities”.

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  3. Byron Richard says:

    Thanks for helping sort many of the online resources I’ve previously heard about as well as add new resources! What I really liked was the support for planning: clear mapping of community purpose, possible community scenarios linked with functional capacities and requirements and expectations for the long-term growth and development of these communities.

    When I look at the list of scenarios and requirements and levels of interaction I get a sense of where my current project exists and what next steps may be. What I would really like to have is some description of how this kind of planning looks, and what it sounds like? How do people recognize when their planned and piloted community takes a left turn, and what do they do to negotiate between original goals and their communities new interest?

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  4. Alina Campana says:

    I am coming back to this document after first using it a few months ago, with a colleague, as a guide to begin articulating goals, user needs, components, etc. for an online community we are building to be connected to a teacher professional development project. As we are moving into the phase of looking for someone to help us build the platform for the community, I am finding the refresher very helpful– especially as we think about prioritizing, ease of use, etc., and how that translates into the actual tools that a developer uses or creates. So already I’ve found this document useful at two points in the process of creating an online community.

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  5. K Aars says:

    This article clearly defines the steps necessary for creating an online community and highlights pitfalls that may occur along the way. I enjoyed most the first several paragraphs; they got me thinking more about purpose and its relation to community than I had in the past. The laundry list of sites in the last half of the article seemed overwhelming, but the overall effect was beneficial–one could search out the paragraph that most described his/her online community and then explore those sites to find one that might work.

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  6. Jay Collier says:

    This brief is the most thorough overview of online collaboration goals, features, and tools I’ve seen. We’re only 2 months into our COP prototype, but I concur with the approach and the recommendations. We have just received a go-ahead to transform our prototype into a production service, and this brief will provide an excellent structure for our deeper investigation.

    In addition, I’d say that our initial experience with BuddyPress — built upon deeper WordPress knowledge — has been very positive.

    http://learnmaine.net/
    http://learnmaine.net/learnmaineproject/2011/09/01/creating-learnmaine-net/
    http://learnmaine.net/learnmaineproject/2011/08/29/discovery-phase-report/

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  7. I clearly have the bias of a vendor, but I have been a vendor for 17 years because I have a passion for online communities for educators.
    In K-12 Open Text FirstClass has been a leading platform for 20 years, in schools as small as coastal Maine school with a handful of students, and as large as Chicago Public Schools. More than 3,000 schools in the US have used it. Recently a new feature, FirstClass Communities, has even been used to organize the last three G-20 Summits.
    Please include FirstClass in your list of proven technologies.

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