I've been invited to contribute to a project to redesign an international online community, and that has got me looking into different kinds of successful communities and how they got that way. Two conferences with an emphasis on community building just wrapped up in the US, and Common Craft posted a nice summary of the lessons learned. The social scientist in me was gratified at reading remarks like "community planning is a farce" (because communities take on a life of their own) and "don't start with the technology" (because you need to set your goals first). Read the rest of Common Craft's post here.
One of the conferences I mentioned was the Community 2.0 Conference in Las Vegas. A few of the first resources to come out look interesting. One is Mukund Mohan's ten step checklist for starting your community. Among the suggestions are (2) understand why you want to have a community: is it a platform for your ideas, or for members to share among one another? (6) identify your influencers, the first few that will really help you get started. Click here to see the Community 2.0 conference blog that has several more participant contributions and links.
The other conference I referred to was the South by Southwest Interactive Festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas. It appears that a lot of the presentations will eventually end up on line, so I'll keep an eye on it. I was particularly interested in a blog post by Kathy Sierra reflecting on the keynote speech she gave at SXSW. On her blog she points out the irony that, even with all the technology that enables us to meet, chat, video conference and share online, we still want to go to conferences and meet up face to face.
Communication technology can make it easier to move large amounts of information around, but it's still not the best way to help people connect emotionally, to inspire, and to create a feeling of belonging together. After reading the links about building online communities, I suggest you read Kathy's post here which includes a list of suggestions for building some face-to-face time into your online community.
To put this in the context of education and learning, I'd say there's definitely a place for classroom blogs, podcasts, video conferences, and anything else that will broaden the opportunities for students to interact with others far beyond the school walls, but there's no replacement for an inspiring, challenging teacher at your side.