Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach - Building online communities

I attended an online seminar on Tuesday 4th September led by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, based on her work 'The Art of Building Virtual Communities'. This has led me to think about the online communities I have been a member of or still am - are they communities or networks? I have not thought about the 'to be or not to be' argument about communities and do not really want to go down that track because it will lead me away from my thinking about e-mentoring and the role of communities, and communities of practice and mentoring - more about that later.

The first online communities I belonged to were email discussion lists, both midwifery related. One was based in the USA and the other one I set up for New Zealand midwives. The activities were passing on information, reflection and debriefing. The list that I moderated was small with only about 60 participants (out of total of over 2,000 registered midwives). It was hard work keeping the list going at times, and I would often try to generate posts by introducing topics. I don't know whether you would say it was a community because of the work that was required by me to keep it going - I'll have to go back to Sheryl's definition of community. Having said that, it is still going after 10 years although I left the list a few years ago.

I now belong to several international research lists: midwifery research and Association of Internet Researchers. We support each other in various ways, giving each other ideas and resources. On the midwifery list, there is huge scope for international collaboration which hopefully, one day, will come to fruition. As a result of being a member of the two lists I have had three books chapters published/accepted for publication, spoken at two conferences and been a visiting scholar in the USA. This ties in with what Sheryl said the other day about the new digital divide between those who network online and those who do not - those opportunities would never have eventuated if I had not been a member of those two email lists.

Going back to community of practice and e-mentoring, I tend to think of mentoring as being in one-to-one dyads, but group mentoring is just as valid as one on one. In fact, isn't that what we do in groups without even realizing it. Blog networks and wikis lend themselves really well to electronic e-mentoring, be that formal or informal. There is very little in literature about the use of blogs and wikis in e-mentoring, so this is an exciting avenue to think about.


Carolyn McIntosh said...

I do agree that there is enormous potential to use blogs and wikis as tools for personal and group reflection and learning Sarah. I am wondering if it is possible to have a closed blogging group that can only communicate with one another. I suppose it must be. If that is the case could it be used as a tool for case debriefing etc. Is this something that we could get our students started with? I have just listened also to the elluminate session with Conrad Glocowski and I am wondering about incorporating blogging into one of the papers. It would fit well in 103.4 I think.

Carolyn McIntosh said...

I am interested in these other online co.mmunities you belong to. i do not belong to any. I would be interested in finding out more about these

Sarah Stewart said...

The midwifery research list was set up by Jane Sandall some years ago. It features a large number of very well known midwifery researchers and is a great resource. Can join at:

The AOIR list is very useful if you are interested in researching the Internet and using the Internet as a tool for research. I have been to two of the conferences and presented my work - again, a list I think you would find interesting especially if you want to know more about the sociological aspects of the Internet. I think I put the link to their web site in my main blog entry.

Linda Robertson said...

Really interesting to know the impact that being on-line can have. Sounds like the impact of doing a conference presentation - it lets others know what you know about! Looking forward to all your insights on e-mentoring.

sheryl nussbaum-Beach said...


I wish I could have gotten to know the participants a little better. How interesting the places our lives cross!

First, I wanted you to know I had a home birth! I also lived on a commune many years ago and helped deliver babies at home. I also had several children in a birthing center. I am a big believer in midwifery. Would love to talk to you about it sometime.

Second, I have done a great deal of work around e-mentoring. Just finished a second year study that looked closely at virtual learning communities and how they support mentoring.

Let me know if you would like to see the results or papers.

Do you use Skype?

I would love to chat sometime.

Anyway thanks for the post. I am glad some of what I had to say was of value.