David’s Musings …

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Dear Fellow Students:

This posting is my (limited) attempt to define social capitalism as it relates to virtual learning communities,  such as this course.

I have not encountered the term ‘social capitalism’ before.  It appears to belong in either the discipline of sociology or perhaps even economics because of the latter association with the word ‘capitalism.’  However, our assigned task is to explore the relationship between social capitalism and virtual online educational communities.

An online community is almost any group of individuals who use Internet technologies to communicate with each other. It is a type of social network. Nowadays, the strength and nature of relationships between individuals is the most useful basis for defining community rather than physical proximity (Preece & Maloney-Krichmar, 2005). Several definitions of ‘social definition’ are offered in our Week 2 readings. I consider the following definition to be the most succinct and pertinent to online educational communities: “Social capital refers to features of social organizations such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit” (Putnam, 1995).

Furthermore, an optimal online community evolves by providing opportunities for growth beyond the confines of the ‘virtual’ classroom that includes exploring ideas that both emerge (and diverge) from initial topics, applying such ideas to actual teaching, putting into practice these ideas within the students’ institutions, and sharing the lessons learned plus results within the learning community. Thus, the learning process shifts from an individual responsibility to a collaborative responsibility (Khasa & Hildreth, 2000).  In the days of the traditional classroom lecture, learning was very much an individual responsibility. Nowadays, the learning that takes place in online distance education communities is purposefully constructivist in nature and involves much interaction among the students who participate in the community. The optimal online community consists of building relationships even beyond the class boundaries itself, which presumably results in developing social capital.

There are a number of interesting issues concerning social capital and online communities that might be worthwhile for us to explore further:

1). At least one the readings made the point that social capital (as in civic engagement and social connectedness) has markedly declined throughout American society since World War II. My question is: Has the Internet further hastened this decline, or has it increased the level of social capital? Social capital, according to some, used to be measured by the degree of face-to-face interaction. The Internet has provided the opportunity for individuals to interact with far more people, even if it is online and not face-to-face. Does this represent a new kind of social capital? Are people more connected to each other? Is there a greater degree of interactivity? What is the quality of interaction?

2). What forms of interactivity within an virtual educational community foster the development of social capital?

3). How does one build mutual trust and respect within virtual educational communities?


David D. King





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