5 a)

Requirement: As well as the core areas, Candidates are required to demonstrate evidence of independent practice in one or more specialist options. This reflects the fact that, although there are common areas of work in this area, practice is extremely diverse and everyone specialises in something different.
Your chosen specialist option might be defined by your manger, your professional body or your own personal interests. You can also define your own specialist topics if none of the recommendations here reflect your role and interests. However, when doing this, you should keep in mind that such areas should be specialist – that is, they should not be things that the majority of practitioners in this area would do.

Once the specialism has been chosen, evidence could include:

Reports, papers or presentations you have written; a job description plus written statements supporting your specialist knowledge from colleagues, clients or managers; active membership of professional or other bodies; certificates of completion of specialist training programmes or courses.

Reflection / Description Specialism is the creation and support of collaborative online informal / formal communities for learning

Online communities for supporting distance learners
Since the first time I participated in an online community as part of my studies of the innovative Open University course 'You, Your Computer and the Net' 10 years ago, I have been fascinated by the way in which supportive online communities form - whether that's by design or by emergence.  The first site I set up to support other students was during 2000 when I created 'KindaHelpful'.  It is now only available via Archive.org as it was superceded by http://kindalearning.blogspot.com in 2007, but it not only provided study resources, but linked to other informal learning resources created by other students and had guest authors writing for the site - reaching well over 50,000 students during the time it was online.  I also use a WordPress blog to supplement my current Open University students' learning at http://sf869.wordpress.com and integrate feeds from Delicious.com, screencasts from slideshare.net and videos from YouTube.com.  I have also used my WordPress blog to share newletters with my students and used a PollDaddy survey to evaluate the usefulness of this practice and again better understand what helps students feel part of a learning community.

Informal and formal online communities - academic and practical understanding
Although I have an academic understanding of online group formation and activity from my Masters in Online and Distance Education and my Master of Education degrees, I am also fortunate that my understanding is grounded in practice as well.  I have had the opportunity to teach on 5 online courses from the Open University:  T189, Digital Photography; T183, Design and the Web; T175, Networked Living - Exploring Information and Communication Technologies; TT280, Web Applications - Design, Development and Management and TU170 - Learning Online which has broadened my experience of how communities develop online.  For each of these courses I ran online forums using the FirstClass computer conferencing software for up to 700 students (see screenshots).  The experience has allowed me to observe first-hand the way in which online scholarly communities form and work.  For example, with T189 I have noticed that students form their own online communities to exchange and share photographs on Flickr.  Doing a search for 'T189 groups' reveals a huge level of independent student activity and using my own Flickr account I have observed and participated in these groups to better understand the behaviours of these powerful online communities.  I have also created and currently administer a 'British Photographers' group on Flickr.  With over 1500 members it is both active and growing; setting monthly photography competitions as well as encouraging a diverse community of photographers.  All of this feeds into my practice as both an online tutor and moderator and allows me to be better placed to support my students and is reflected in their feedback.

Support for projects via online communities
As part of the 2009 - 2011 JISC-funded SHARE project I had the role of Communications workpackage lead and had the task of creating a means by which all members of the project team and beyond could collaborate.  I used a range of web 2.0 tools to faciliate this - from a WordPress-powered website at http://ntushare.org to a TikiWiki-powered Open Source wiki at http://wiki.ntushare.org.  Using NetVibes I complemented these main sites by encouraging people to use a unique tag - NTUSHARE - on all web 2.0 services (including YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, Delicious etc) to provide unique RSS feeds which could be brought together on a single page.  Allowing people to interact either formally via the main SHARE project wiki or informally by user-generated content which has been tagged NTUSHARE was a deliberate choice to try to maximize user participation.  During a podcast interview I conducted with our Canadian project partners, Desire2Learn, they specifically mentioned the role of the communications work package

Research into online communication and community
As well as being a research participant in several Open University projects, I have also researched the way in which students communicate in online synchronous discussion both with and without a tutor present and used this to help shape a potential pedagogy for using more informal means of communication online in teaching and learning.  This research has so far been disseminated via my Kindalearning blog, through the Nottingham Trent University Annual Learning and Teaching Conference and will also be presented as a short paper at the ALT-C, 2010.  I look forward to continuing to develop this in my PhD in e-Research and Technology Enhanced Learning at Lancaster University in 2011.
Example Online communities:
  • KindaHelpful.com (no longer online)
Screenshot of "KindaHelpful.com":

Screenshot of British Photographers administration (my Flickr account name is Maddy Lou):

Screenshot of Kinda Learning Stuff (2007 onwards)

Screenshot of Sarah Horrigan's OU-ish Blog (2009 onwards)

  • JISC-funded NTU SHARE project (2009 onwards)
Website: http://ntushare.org
Wiki: http://wiki.ntushare.org
NetVibes: http://netvibes.com/ntushare

Screenshot of Netvibes aggregation:

Podcast with Ian Mathers and Yvonne Monterosso (Desire2Learn) in which the impact of project communications is discussed (see interview transcript, p.2-3)

Online Tutoring:

of online forums I have created / moderated for the Open University:

  • T175 Tutor Group forum for 21 students (2006 onwards)

  • T189 forum for 700 students (2007 onwards)

  • TU170 Tutor Group forum for 15 students (2001 - 2004)

  • Feedback from Open University students on my teaching practice, 2009
Screenshot of survey: