One of our findings from the research project is that "groups matter." We believe that some form of "groupness" is both a desired outcome and a precondition for good learning outcomes. In using the language of "group," we are explicitly moving away from a concept like "community," which is a phenomena that suggests a depth and stability that is rare and also not necessary for good learning outcomes. Far more common than communities are loose assemblies that come and go, form and fall apart, gather together and go away. Such phenomena are more common and perfectly OK--this is how we experience much of our own work lives. Therefore, achieving some level of “groupness” is likely necessary for success in online environments.
Key qualities include:
- Facilitation: inviting and connecting are key moves for creating and maintaining groups
- Shared technologies and tools that are well-integrated
- Shared work (attentiveness, purpose, goals, actions)
- Shared experiences
- Communication (e.g., writing) as one of the ways that groups are formed, normed, and maintained
"Groupness" isn't a thing. It is a quality and something that is visible in action. When we think in terms of groupness and not precisely groups, we are thinking in terms of verbs and not precisely nouns. That grammatical shift might make it easier to understand groupness as an event and process. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. There is both growth and decay, formation and falling apart. We see indicators of groupness in activity. Many but not all acts of groupness are communicative. That is, communication practices are the sources of indicators of groupness. When we see discourse moves to set boundaries—"we" moments, "us" and "them" moments, and so on—we are seeing important indicators of groupness (we are seeing verbs). Perhaps most important as indicators of groupness are things that are shared: norms, practices, identities, emotions, ideas, values, work (this list is not intended to be exhaustive).
In terms of the analytical tools we created to analyze online activity and also in terms of the facilitation moves we used, the following are more likely to allow us to see and facilitate acts of groupness:
- Articulation of shared roles
- Articulation of shared experiences
- Constructions of connections
- And perhaps some expressions of sympathy, empathy, and emotion
Many of these moves are (or can be) associated with identity, and so any identity work should also attract our attention as well.