A Case Study of Informal Online Community for Graduate Students: A Community of Practice Design

Doğan S., Günay A., Caner S., İşgör Şimşek E.

International Instructional Technologies Teacher Education Symposium, Elazığ, Turkey, 6 - 08 October 2016

  • Publication Type: Conference Paper / Summary Text
  • City: Elazığ
  • Country: Turkey


Being in academic world needs continuous development of oneself and dedicated working. While starting this journey, one definitely needs support and guidance from other experienced academicians. If you are working as a research assistant in a university probably you are luckier than people who are just graduate students or working outside of the university. As a research assistant you can have opportunity of having good relationships with academicians and getting help when you need. However, people who work outside can have troubles about academic processes because they do not have enough time and effort to set this relationships and improve themselves as an academician. In department of Computer Education and Instructional Technology (CEIT) which in Middle East Technical University (METU), there are 108 graduate students who are enrolled to the CEIT department, but 80 out 108 students are not academic staff in any department. They work outside or they are just students in the CEIT department. These students have a number of problems regarding graduate study processes because they have limited interaction with the department.The aim of this current study is to help graduate students to improve their academic skills. For this aim, a case study was conducted. Interview and observation were used as data collection tools for need analysis. Interview was conducted with eleven master and doctorate students who do not work in the department as a research asistant to determine the needs and problems they have. As a result of interviews five main themes were occured: courses,thesis, advisors, qualification exam and other stuff. To be more specific, problems are; They cannot find some necessary information related to course status (must or elective). They have problems in how to select courses, in which order. They also do not know in which semestr they need to assign advisor. They complain about the deficiency of the resources about the qualification exam, some of them do not know which courses are essential for it, and even worse some of them do not know anything about it. In pre- thesis process gradiators have a difficulty in determining the subject. And they want to pour out their troubles in the thesis process with their peers in order to feel relieved and to motivate themselves. They just need to exchange ideas with their peers who are in the thesis process. Therefore, this study aimed to provide an alternative to reduce these problems with the design of an informal online community. In other words, the aim of this current study is to help graduate students to improve their academic skills and minimize problems that they faced in graduate study process by designing and utilizing an informal online community. The community was designed based on Community of Practice (CoP) concept. Lave and Wenger (1991), define CoP as a group of people who share a profession or craft. Interaction, sharing, learning together, belonging, mutual commitment and building relationship are the elements of being a community (Wegner and etc., 2002). Therefore, it was thought that an online CoP can be a possible solution to CEIT graduate students’ problems. Identifying domain, community and practice are the key issues in the beginning of the community. The domain of the group is academic development. Community was consist of students in the department of CEIT in METU. As a practice, in gradiators community, people share their experiences with each other in order to save time and spend their graduate years efficiently. Community of Practice evolve gradually. There are five stages of community development: potential, coalescing, maturing, stewardship and transformation. In potential stage drawing people’s attention is crucial. In order to take people’s attention and collect them around the common ground, researchers made interview with the gradiators about their needs and expectations from the CEIT departments and Graduate School of Natural and Applied Sciences. Thus, the common ground was determined as knowledge and experience exchange about academic development. In coalescing stage, community is started to hosting events and activities. In this community, as an hosting event workshop was conducted to let gradiators to know each others and to talk about their problems, needs and expectations. Facebook page was formed to share knowledge, to develop relationship among gradiators and to communicate with each other. As an activities, four meetings and refereeing group was conducted for academic development: (1) first face to face activity of the group was a movie screening about PHD process, called The PHD Movie, (2) two wrinting group activity were practiced, (3) introduction to thesis seminars were held. In addition, every week, challange activity was held in order to trigger gradiators to work academically. In maturing stage, community members get to know each others in the meetings and by following posts in the Facebook page. Thus, they have a chance to determine whom to contact for a certain kind of help. During this stage, domain of the group continued to refine. In gradiators group, the first domain was academic development. As time passes, domain of the group does not change in this community. Currently, there are 87 members in the community’s Facebook page. In the stewardship stage, opennes is one of the key issue. A community is needed to be open to new ideas, perspectives and activities offered by members to prevent vicous cycle. For example, in our community, workshops or challenge activities can be offered and applied by any member without being an active member of the community. They do not need any approval from the the coordinaters if they find someones who shared same needs. They can determine topic, and time to conduct activity over the Facebook page. By this way, it can be said that different people can coordiante activities they interested in. Keywords: professional development, academic development, community design