A More Realistic Approach
to Building a Community

by Craig Rusbult, Ph.D.

The last revision of this page was in May 2005,
except for the comments below in DARK RED.

COMMENTS added March 11, 2020:  This page is out-of-date, and ASA's efforts to build community have been moving in new directions in new ways.  Recently, beginning in late-December 2009, ASA — led by Randy Isaac (Executive Director of ASA) and Terry Gray (webmaster and web editor for ASA) — terminated the ASA Email List (at least temporarily) and began hosting three new blog-forums ASA Voices and ASA Book Discussion and ASA PSCF Discussion (PSCF, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, is the journal of ASA) — for blog entries & comments written by ASA members.

A fascinating early blog-entry is Terry Gray's Thoughts about the ASA Email List from its beginning to the present.

An idea that I emphasized in 2005 is the value of working with other organizations, and ASA has been doing this.  One example is described in the first paragraph of Randy Isaac's blog entry about the national meeting of AAAS in February 2010 where the Dialog on Science, Ethics, and Religion (a program run by AAAS, and to be funded by the Templeton Foundation for the next 4 years) will soon be directed by Jennifer Wiseman, who currently is on the council of ASA.

The rest of this page is an "archive" for some ideas I had in 2004-2005.

This section was written between November 2004 and May 2005:

      When you see "more" you naturally ask "more than what?"  In this case, it's more realistic than the approach in my Science Education Commission Newsletter from October 2004:  the relevant parts of it (from Sections 1 and 2) are below and the entire newsletter is in another page.
      Yes, I've changed my mind, due in part to a scientific "reality check" that tested whether the way I thought it would be (according to my theory about building a community) corresponded to the way it really is.  When I wrote the newsletter, I was hoping for (and halfway expecting) some interest and feedback in the ASA Science Education Forum.  In reality, however, there have been few views and no replies.
      But I was also halfway expecting this lack of response because, as I said in the newsletter, ASA members "are busy (with more to do than time to do it)... so most of us won't take time to visit the Science Ed Forum every day."  Therefore, I said that "much of our conversation will occur in scheduled discussions about selected topics."  But I don't think this will happen either, without a change of approach.

      Here is a brief summary of the new approach:
      Instead of trying to build a community "from the ground up" among current ASA members, I think it will be more enjoyable and productive to search for ways to help build a wider community that includes ASA members, mainly by searching for existing communities (already built) that we can join.
      Most teachers stay busy just trying to get their basic duties finished and improve their teaching in the classroom, and if they have extra time to invest in "building communities" they want their communities to be more local (with other teachers in their own school or district) or more specialized (with teachers of the same age-range and subject area).  For example, a high school biology teacher will probably "gain more of obvious immediate value" from discussions and relationships with other high school biology teachers, or (to make it more local) with teachers in other subjects at their own school.

      Scheduled Discussions:  To get a "critical mass" for a discussion — with enough participants to make it interesting and worthwhile — we could announce it to the entire ASA membership (giving them information about the topic, timing, and how to participate) in the monthly Electronic ASA Newsletter, when there is one.  { A scheduled discussion could occur in the Science Education Discussion Forum in the ASA Bulletin Board, which was set up in 2004 but was never actively used, and is currently inactive. }  In early 2004, leaders in the Communications Commission talked about having an electronic newsletter, but for various reasons (change of staff in the main office,...) this has not yet happened.

      Here are brief/rough sketches of what will be here later;  eventually, I'll describe:
      other communities (CCTE, NSTA,...) and how we can participate in what they're doing;
      why the new approach is more realistic and practical;
      how it's similar to an approach described by Hessel Bouma, who [in 2005 was] an ASA Council Member;
      useful principles and strategies, in a condensation (with comments) of the most relevant parts of the newsletter.

Homepage for ASA Science Education Commission

Here are two sections (some of 1 and all of 2) from my Science Education Commission Newsletter in October 2004:

      1. Let's make some news!
      ... You can make news in two ways:
      Being Newsworthy:  ... You can "be good news" for others by improving the lives of people inside your circle of influence. ... You can be a good teacher in the classroom, and also help your colleagues become better teachers, and promote constructive change in an educational system.
      Reporting News:  We hope you'll share what you know... so we can become a sharing community that is supportive, enjoyable, and productive.

      2. Building a Community
      Do you enjoy talking with friends about fascinating ideas?  Do you like to work with colleagues on important projects?  These are two of the ways you can participate in community.  The main goal of this newsletter is to help you find friends and colleagues who can become partners in building communities around your mutual interests.  a comment, added March 1, 2005:  Instead of trying to "build a community" among current ASA members, I think it will be more enjoyable and productive to search for ways to help build a wider community that includes ASA members, as explained in a page about Building Communities. [which you're now reading]
      How?  To help ASA members build communities, in the past year the ASA has provided new ways for us to communicate.  I'm especially excited about the ASA Bulletin Board, which collects and organizes what you write so we can share ideas.  Our part of the bulletin board, the Science Education Forum, will have two types of topics, for information and conversation.
      Information:  You can share what you know, and see what others know, about events (conferences, lectures,...), people (tell us about yourself, and learn about potential friends and colleagues), projects (what are you doing? would you like some help?), communities (other forums or email lists, and organizations for educators or scientists), resources (on the web or in print), and jobs (mainly by describing the listing-services of CHE, CCCU, ASA,...).  And there will be poll-questions to discover what we do, and what we think about various issues.
      Conversation:  Some talk will be ongoing, but since we know you're busy (with more to do than time to do it) much of our conversation will occur in scheduled discussions about selected topics.  Most of us won't take time to visit the Science Ed Forum every day.  But many of us will visit every day for a week, and by doing this we can get a "critical mass" with enough people and perspectives to make the forum interesting for you, giving you a reason to read and respond.  Our first scheduled discussion may be about Christian Education for eight days (W to W) in early-summer 2005.  Later, we may have discussions about other topics (including Origins Education) after making decisions about timing-and-topics in the forum.
      How?  You can visit four useful homepages by using web-logic to choose appropriate links:  Go to www.asa3.org and click "Education" (in "Topics" at top-left corner), "ASA Science Education Commission" and "ASA Bulletin Board" [but this was discontinued in late 2005] and then click on each link (ASA Matters,...) so you can see all available forums.  After you register — it's quick and easy, and for a UserName you may want to just use your own name, like I did — you can participate in discussions.

      Building Many Communities:  The ASA community contains smaller communities, each built around common interests.  What are some possible interests?  In education, teachers in four settings — Christian schools (K-12 and college), public schools (K-12 and college) — will share some interests with teachers in the other three groups (and with home educators), but there will be a closer match with teachers in their own group.  In addition to these vocational connections (based on what you do), shared interests might be topical (what you like to think about and discuss) or geographical (where you live, so you can meet in person).
      Joining Other Communities:  Many of you are now in vibrant communities, thriving with stimulating people and activities.  Tell us about your community.  Who might want to join, and why?  What are the common interests?  Are you local, regional, or national?  Do you interact electronically, in person, or both?  If there is a bulletin board or email list, describe it: What are the typical topics, how frequent are posts, what is the mood (is it cooperative, confrontational, intellectual, practical, social, or...), what is the level and quality of ideas, and how do you feel about it?
      Using Communities for Outreach:  The mission statement of my church in Madison is "Building a Community to Reach a Community."  We can use our ASA communities to reach other communities and individuals.  The Science Education Forum is open to everyone, so you can invite anyone you think might contribute to the forum or benefit from it.

      What else is happening?  In addition to the general ASA Email Discussion Group, two communities in ASA — the geology and biology affiliates — have homepages (check the lower-left corner of www.asa3.org) that tell you about their own email ListServes.  Soon, the ASA will begin sending monthly mini-newsletters by email.  Basically, education is communication, so it's appropriate that two commissions (Science Education and Communication) met together in July at the ASA's annual meeting.
      During the past year, the Communications Commission has been very productive, providing new ways for us to communicate (the bulletin board and email newsletter) and developing policies for the wise use of our communication resources.  Overall, the ASA communicates in two main modes: vertical top-down from "the ASA" to its members (as in the journal and newsletters), and horizontal spreading-out among members (as in bulletin board forums and email lists).  Both modes are useful.
      Compared with a year ago, when the ASA Bulletin Board did not exist, our opportunities for building community are much greater now.  The bulletin board and its forums are just beginning to develop.  In fact, Science Ed will be one of the first forums that (I hope) will have a large number of people using it.  What will happen?  We don't know.  We're making plans, but part of our plan is to be flexible, to improvise based on your response.  For example, currently the Science Ed Forum is open to everyone, but in the future its members may want to restrict the participation in some way.  Or maybe not.  We'll see what happens.  There will be a similar "structured flexibility" in other forums.  As various communities develop in time, they will evolve in their own ways, and a year from now the bulletin board will not look the same as when you first see it.

      The rest of this newsletter is related to communication and community.  The next two sections (An Educational Website, and Improving the Website) are about communicating through the web, and will be discussed in the Science Ed Forum.  The final section (Christian Education) is background reading for the first scheduled discussion in our community.

the entire newsletter from October 2004

Home-Page for the ASA Science Education Commission