Building Online Community

1998 Summer Institute || Participant Projects || List of Participants || Sum98 Staff || Agenda

We have two purposes in this look at building online community:

Note that there are three places in the following (marked A, B, and C) where you are asked to do some writing.

The Math Forum began life as the Geometry Forum, before the WWW existed, and was initially focused around a set of newsgroups. We have always defined ourselves as a community and believe the growth of the Forum is primarily a result of this focus and of supporting and building on the activity of those who use our resources, projects, services, and public forums. Thus we are very interested in figuring out both what makes for good online communities, and how communities can help achieve goals such as the support of systemic reform efforts, continuing professional development, nurturing students' interest in mathematics, and helping the Math Forum become self-sustaining.

Communication, naturally enough, is at the heart of online communities. At the Forum we host a number of newsgroups, mailing lists, and web-based discussion groups, and we have experimented with different ways to seed and organize discussions. We have also been exploring TappedIn, a multi-user, real-time environment that we use for virtual office hours, group tours, and topic-specific chats.

What Makes for a Good Discussion?

Go to our discussions page at and visit at least 10 different groups, including some under Special Projects. (A) Think about the following questions and use the geometry-institutes group to share your thoughts on what makes for a good discussion. See also onsite participant Evan Glazer's paper analyzing the discourse in one discussion group:

Which groups are most active? Of the active groups, is it the same small group of people talking, or a lot of different participants? Which groups appear most focused and resourceful? What do you think influences the character of the activity and the focus? Is it:

Moderation and facilitation are two means of focusing online discussions that have been used to varying degrees of success. See the Learning and Mathematics series, NCTM Standards 2000, mathedu, k12.ed.math, sci.math.num-analysis, and Collaborative Learning discussions as examples of different forms of moderation or facilitation.

There's More to Community than Discussion Groups and Conferences

What else can contribute to successful online communities, and what benefits can such communities bring to your projects? (B) Think and write on this question in the geometry-institutes group. What follows are a few starting points for reflection.

Personal Contact and Support:

Bridging Email and Public Discussions:

Resources, Projects, and Common Work

The benefits of community are many, including the additional resources contributed by community members, the helpful feedback and perspectives offered, and the support of colleagues. They can also be labor-intensive, and one of the challenges in developing online resources is to balance your involvement with others with your own development efforts. The Math Forum has some services that can help manage your communites, and we expect that more are on the way. At the very least, we hope you will help us form a community that will serve your needs as developers of online mathematics education resources.

(C) Write me a note if you would like to implement a mailing list or web discussion group or some other community element for which you would like some help from the Math Forum:


Elements of CommunityWare communities:

Process for starting a community:

  1. Choose whether you would like your community to be public or private. Public is open to all people on CommunityWare. Private is password protected and accessed only by invitation.

  2. Describe your community. Give it a name, enter it in a category, set standards of conduct.

  3. Select the opening view or welcome page. Choose from such applications as chat, bulletin, conferences, homepage, etc. This is what will greet your members as they enter your community.

  4. Invite friends, family, colleagues, business partners, students or anyone to your community.

  5. Click the "Come In" button on the last page to enter your community.

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Math Forum * * * * 6 July 1998