Sunday, April 17, 2005

Fractal Depth--How Deep is Deep Enough?

Which of the following descriptions of higher education sounds more dynamic to you?
  1. We are a community of learners, utilizing the Internet and other technologies to enhance learning.
  2. Our classes are web enhanced.

I like the first because it implicitly embodies a goal, which is to create a community of learners. The second is a mere description. The question on my mind is the role of technology in contributing to the creation of community. Here's an insight that comes from the world of business consulting:

If your forum covers a wide range of topics, it may be a good idea to break it down into narrower subtopics: Smaller, more focused sub-communities can create more commitment and stronger member ties than larger, more diffuse communities (this is referred to as creating "fractal depth" by the authors of Net Gain).

Let me interpret for you. Like many instructors, I utilize the Discussion Board feature built into my university's CMT (course management tool, which in my case is WebCT). At the instructor's option, CMT's offer learners the opportunity to become part of a large online community (in my case the 300 students in the class). Instructors have the further option of putting students into groups (the better word is "team" because that word implicitly embodies a significant goal that is absent from "group"). What I'm trying to do in utilizing WebCT groups is to create fractal depth. But how deep is deep enough?

Teams created for specific courses are ephemeral. When the course is over the team members will likely go their own separate ways. Too, teammates exhibit different levels of committment to a class like mine, which is taken to meet a core curriculum requirement. Initially, fractal depth is probably going to be about as thin as a layer of topsoil in Dust Bowl Oklahoma in the 1930s.

Part of my job then is to enrich the soil, to build fractal depth among teams and among the class. We can easily teach faculty how to point and click, but teaching them how to build the optimal level of fractal depth is more challenging. I'm not sure I know how to do it myself. I do know that it has to start with me. I'll be talking more about fractal depth in future posts as I clarify my thoughts.


Blogger phlezk said...

why did you chose to describe it "fractal depth"

very interesting choice of words.

2:23 PM  
Blogger Dr. Tammy said...

Very relevant topic...teambuilding and virtual learning communities.

Palloff and Pratt have a book called "Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace." I believe this will answer your "how" to create "fractal depth" in virtual learning communities.

8:27 AM  

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