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Education Research > 5: Online Communities

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5A: Types of Resources

Online communities are discussion groups that gather around a particular topic. They take many forms: mailing lists, newsgroups, Web forums, chat, and blogs. They may be moderated or un-moderated; local or worldwide; include amateurs, enthusiasts, professionals or just curious people; and cover virtually any topic, from splicing genes to home schooling.

These groups are rich sources for current information and networking. Blogs and Web forums generally publish updates on hot topics before printed or online newspapers. Further, online communities may contain experts who are able to lend guidance or insight on hard-to-research topics. Many reputable magazines are beginning to sponsor blogs written by resident experts. Browse your favorite online topical magazine to see if there is a sponsored blog documenting current events and hot topics.

While online communities can be a valuable source of information, use caution. Often, the credentials of bloggers or commentators is unknown, making the information that they provide somewhat suspect. Therefore, online communities are best used once you have established yourself as a member and have listened to the 'conversation' over time. Online communities are not reliable sources for quick data, involved research, or for getting started on a topic.

Blogs can be run for free and with relative ease, so almost anyone can have a blog. Some people use them as a soapbox for personal, religious, political, or social viewpoints. Others sponsor blogs in a professional capacity and strive to represent a variety of issues and points of view. Most blog sites are heavily influenced by the values of the author. Be sure to read blogs carefully in order to identify bias in the information you are gathering.

5B: Examples

AERA Divisions

Sponsored by the American Educational Research Association. Each AERA "division" maintains an electronic discussion list on topics germane to its area of research. Click on a division of interest and find how to join that division's listserv in the left navigation bar.

H-EDUCATION

An electronic discussion list focusing on the History of Education. Sponsored by the Humanities OnLine initiative (H-Net) housed at Michigan State University.

The Education Wonks- Thoughts And Ideas Freely Exchanged

This blog promotes the free exchange of thoughts and ideas in areas regarding education, educational policy, and educational finance politics.

5C: How to Find More

CataList

A searchable directory listing of over 50,000 public listservs (mailing lists).

Google Blog Search

Find blogs and blog posts on your favorite topic.

Technorati

Technorati is a near real time search engine focused primarily on blogs, but it also indexes many RSS feeds. Technorati currently tracks 50.5 million blogs.

Activity

Use Technorati to find a blog entry discussing preschool. Experiment with the limiters (authority, language). Note the differences in the results.

[Links open in new browser window.]

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