Do you remember group projects in school? I’m currently taking three classes that require these “team” efforts. Here are the most common complaints I hear regarding this wonderful activity.
- No one can agree on what to do
- Not everyone pulls their weight
- Some people have no knowledge on the subject
- People work last minute and rush to get things done
- It takes more time to work with others than to do it myself
Any of this sound familiar? But wait! There are some groups that can be effective and efficient in solving problems. These groups are known as knowledge communities.
What is a knowledge community?
Knowledge communities came about with the ability to share and store information online. Individuals working together on similar tasks could coalesce their knowledge and create a repository of information. The information could then be built upon, edited, and used by others.
Knowledge communities evolved from web forums, chat rooms, and online discourse communities. This synthesis began in the 80s and 90s. They are a form of social media that really took off at the beginning of the 21st century. Unlike social networks, knowledge communities have some form of moderation and are outcome oriented — which is a fancy way of saying there are people monitoring the site and there is a common goal or reason for the group to operate.
The groups are open exchanges of information. People can come and go, and everyone can share the information. The types of communities are as varied as the earth’s population. Groups for professional, scientific, artistic, and personal interests can be found online. In my last blog, Converge Culture in the Digital Age, I discussed social groups who share information on interests like reality TV shows. Anything can spark a knowledge community….seriously
The interaction of individuals in a group dynamic is unpredictable, unstable, continually changing, and full of uncertainty. Eventually, however, the individuals coalesce into a working unit — albeit not the most efficient one to start — and structure begins to take place. Leaders emerge, tasks are divided up, and each person’s expertise is exploited to reach an outcome. The group can be short-lived or continue indefinitely.
No one knows everything,
but everyone knows something
This succinctly describes the usefulness of a knowledge community. As an individual, we can only have so much knowledge on any given subject. As a collective of like-minded individuals, we can share what we know and openly gain the knowledge of others. The idea that everyone has something to offer is reflected in the democratic interactions of the group. Knowledge might come from life experience, training, professional work, or education. Participants in the group sift through all the information to create a comprehensive view of what is being studied.
Many hands make light work. Knowledge communities are also excellent for solving problems and creating innovative ideas. The variety of skills and life experiences of the members merge to create powerful think tanks for problem solving.
Unlimited — Evolving — Expanding
Books, journals, and encyclopedias are static resources of information — once printed, they are set. Knowledge communities continually grow and change as new information is added, incorrect information is edited, and new resources are cited.
Wikipedia is an example of a knowledge community.
This free, online encyclopedia is user-generated. Anyone who signs up can edit and enter information as part of this Wiki community. So it’s not a free-for-all (and to dissuade abusive or false entries) moderators have the ability to block users, edit or freeze entries, and arbitrate disputes concerning entries. While there are plenty of pranksters out there seeking to sabotage Wikipedia with false information, its overall accuracy of information is close to that of Encyclopedia Britannica.
The amount of information that can be entered and stored online is limitless whereas a bound set of books holds a finite amount of data. Authors or editors must choose what to print in each edition. If new information becomes available or facts change, the site can be instantly updated. Traditional encyclopedias must wait to correct the information in the next printing. Wikipedia’s dedicated users work tirelessly to create a valuable and accurate source of information. The sister projects of Wikipedia consist of other knowledge communities that include:
Free media repository
Wiki software development
Wikimedia project coordination
Free textbooks and manuals
Free knowledge base
Collection of quotations
Directory of species
Free learning materials and activities
Free travel guide
Dictionary and thesaurus
Another interesting site is Creative Commons.
For many, sharing knowledge means empowering everyone to learn and create. Allowing others to use one’s creations for free builds social, communal, and professional ties. Contributors can select how and when their creations are used and in what way, if any, someone can modify the original work. This is one way people are trying to deal with intellectual property rights on the Internet. Creative commons is considered part of the copyleft (a play on the word copyright) movement.
Creating knowledge communities for innovation and funding
Crowdsourcing is sometimes referred to as: Mass Collaboration, Open Innovation, Community Production, Mass Solutions, Constituent Driven Innovation, Connected Intelligence, Collective Wisdom, Intelligent networks and Human Networks.
These groups are another great example of combining knowledge online. The Internet has proven to be a valuable tool for making ideas come to fruition through funding from the online community. Small, individual donations can add up to a sizable kick-starter for entrepreneurs seeking financial backing.
Have we finally created the Utopian learning environment of the 21st century? Yeah…not so much.
And now for a reality check. People are people no matter what. There will always be struggles and conflict when individuals work together. Whether a traditional or virtual group, the dynamics change and evolve as members develop the group’s norms and work structure. The new participatory culture of converged media is a work in progress. We are all figuring out how to be user/producers in the digital world.
The problems of real life show up and are often magnified in the virtual world. The lack of face to face interaction and anonymous profiles can bring out darker side of humanity. Personality conflicts, jealousy, political maneuvering, and cyber-bullying can wreak havoc on a group with the best of intentions. Often times people will react more abruptly and abusively online because of a sense of “distance” from the person they’re quarreling with.
Let’s face it some people just like to cause problems
Most groups work through these problems just like they do in everyday life. Once established, the norms and traditions of the group become effective tools against the issues that cause discord. Whether we change technology to suite our needs or change our culture to suite the technology we created, we move forward and evolve.
A unique glimpse at some media evolution and our learning skills
From my perspective as a student in Media Criticism, I found the following video made some interesting points on the changes in media and technology. It shows the connectivity and the power of the Internet in every aspect of our lives — particularly in the attainment, distribution, and sharing of knowledge. If you have a few minutes, its worth watching.