Reciprocity Quandary

I am in the midst of one, are you?

 Some rights reserved by gmayster01

Lifting the mist on reciprocity

  Some rights reserved by gmayster01

I have just commented on Craig’s blog “when do we all feel satisfied that participation, communication and learning has taken place?” I still don’t have the answer but after reading Preece’s “Sociability and usability in online communities” I find it re-assuring to note that others are asking the same questions.

Although this article was published in 2001 before the phenomenon of social media like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube really took off in a big way Preece tries to come up with a recipe, or determinants for successful online communities focussing on sociability and usability. In relation to sociability she seeks to define these determinants of success by asking questions related to the 3 attributes that she believes makes up a community:

1)     the purpose of the community

2)     the people involved in it

3)     the policies that are implemented and adhered to by the community.

I thought I should try and answer the same questions about my own blog and our community blogosphere which has been set up to meet the criteria set by the MSc module Theory and Evaluation of eLearning.


Getting down to the nitty gritty we have all been “tasked” to set up a blog for what I perceive to be 4 reasons:

a)     to familiarise ourselves and get to grips with the blogging technologies and explore the Web 2.0 opportunities which can dovetail into this process

b)    to share, collaborate, dissect, reflect, enquire and discuss the subject of online communities and experience this first hand (active learning?)

c)     to explore the characteristics and interactions of online communities, for better or for worse

d)    to write our assignment for the module based on our experience and reflections.

Have I missed something?

Having established the purpose of this online community (please feel free to add more) Preece then suggests we can measure how successful this community is by asking:

1)     How many and what kinds of messages or comments (or comments per member) are being sent?

2)     How on-topic is the discussion?

3)     How much interactivity is occurring?

4)     How much and what kind of reciprocity occurs?

5)     What is the quality of the people’s contributions and interactions?

(Preece, 2001, p.354). I thought this was expedient because when it comes to writing up our reflections trying to answer these questions might be a worthwhile exercise.

Reciprocity strikes me as an interesting concept. In my comments to Craig I have written;

“I am trying to comment on everyone’s blogs in a meaningful way avoiding platitudes and superficial remarks but there is also the courtesy thing of trying to help everyone and not appear rude. The affective domain that Yacci refers to in his exploration of interactivity is a key element here. However, I find it difficult to end the loop. When do we all feel satisfied that participation, communication and learning has taken place. I don’t want to be just (sic) a taker but a giver too and this can be hard sometimes”.

It seems that for those of us who are new to community blogging we really are learning on the job. Preece advises us that a measure of reciprocity should “take account of the ratio of giving to and taking from a community; for example, the number of questions an individual asks compared with the number of responses she makes to others. Another measure could be produced by asking individuals to rate their own reciprocity by assessing what they get from the community compared with what they contribute to it” (Preece, 2001, p.351).

So I am going to bear this in mind.

I have been concerned about the length of my posts and comments. Preece suggests however, that academic online communities usually generate longer and more indepth threads in comparison to say, patient support communities in which empathy is pivotal and therefore threads are shorter but more numerous. She questions whether analysing the threads could “also form the basis of a useful metric” of success since “thread depth has been used as a measure of interactivity” (Preece, 2001, p.351).

Even though I worry about what I am posting and contributing, and trying to steer from monologue to dialogue, I have undoubtedly been propelled from being a lurker to a contributor. In other online communities I belong to like the Champ Curriculum List which is an email list of educational technologists from schools, colleges and universities, and spaces like Twitter, I am a lurker, reading, observing and taking what I find to be useful. It is interesting to note that “average percentages of lurkers are frequently said to be in the high 90’s” (Preece, 2001, p,351). So perhaps I don’t feel too bad and it seems to me that those who contribute a lot during online discussions are confident and happy to do so.

I am finding that this online collaborative interaction is stimulating: time-consuming but definitely worth while because it helps build a bird’s eye perspective of issues and concepts that widen my horizon. Is this Vygotsky’s social constructivism in the making which our tutor Cherly has instigated and facilitated?

I feel the need to insert that photo again. It’s my personal take on how I feel about online communities – taking you somewhere, belonging to something, freeing yourself of preconceived ideas and getting that bird’s eye view!

Attribution:  Some rights reserved by etgeek (Eric) under Flick CreativeCommons

4 thoughts on “Reciprocity Quandary

  1. Hi Beth,
    Do you have the full reference for Preece? I don’t know it and it sound very interesting and might help me develop my research into Wenger and his shifting notions of CoPs. I’d like to look at Preece and see how the ideas compare and link up with Wenger’s ‘domain’, ‘community’ and ‘practice’ (2004). Love that photo 🙂 Vrasidas and Zembylas (2004) also say that identifying relevant domains through interaction help connect online interactions to offline activities. Are we trying to do this here? I think so, or at least I am trying to, or will be trying to.

    You’re notes on the purpose of this community got me thinking again. A couple of things we might add are to learn to commit to a VCoP in order to experience it, and from that to learn to build trust in ourselves and each other. Mason et al, (2006, p.10) state that by building “… a sense of reciprocity, goodwill, mutual support, common language, accepted norms and rules, and trust” from which ongoing interaction can ensue between participants who feel morally obliged to share and reciprocate (Correia et al, 2009) – which probably leads to the anxieties we’re feeling! 🙂

    It’s Saturday morning and I’m tired and grumpy because I haven’t had breakfast yet, so I’m wondering if this response is mutually coherent with your post.


    Correia, A. M., Paulos, A. and Mesquita, A. (2009) Virtual communities of practice: Investigating motivations and constraints in the processes of knowledge creation and transfer In: ECKM09- European Conference on Knowledge Management, September 3-4, 2009. Università Degli Studi Di Padova, Vicenza, Italy.

    Mason, C., Castleman, T. and Parker, C. (2006) Virtual Communities of Practice for Regional Small Business: Bringing Informal Networks Online. In: 19th Bled eConference eValues. June 5-7, 2006. Bled, Slovenia

    Vrasidas, C. and Zembylas, M. (2004) ‘Online professional development: lessons from the field’ Education + Training, vol.46, no.6/7: pp. 326-334 [online] Available at [Accessed 10 August, 2011]

    Wenger, E. (2004) ‘Knowledge management as a doughnut: Shaping your knowledge strategy throughcommunities of practice’ Ivy Business Journal Online January/February, 2004: pp. 1-8 [online] Available at [Accessed 1 August, 2011]

  2. Hi Beth. I like your honesty here, and like Craig would be also interested in reading Preese. I’m interested in your comments about length of blog post. I too have worried not just about the length of my blog post, but about the length of other people’s blog posts. I have to say that I’m struggling to find the time to 1. Read all that I need to read 2. Create interesting and informed blog posts 3. Read other people’s Blog posts and comment on them with high mutual coherence. And often wonder if our own blogosphere clique is a little artificial. However, the questions then start to arise about how you create a functional virtual community of practice. Can you artificially promote community of practice, or is it something that grows out of time, necessity and perceived benefit. I’m not referring to any theory here, just musing on my own… Have a read through my RSS post? It looks at short term memory overload which I think is relevant to your post here.
    Keep up the good work.

  3. Pingback: Good CoPs, Bad CoPs | blogging4education

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