Participating in Online Communities for Mutual Support

Digital Literacies Peacock

Why a “Digital Literacy” Introduction?

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
See UPDATE 4/27 below

I recently received an invitation from Hazel Owen, a woman introducing herself to me for the first time after her first visit to

She became aware of me only because I had “liked” an article written by her (hold that thought – it will relate to unwritten “reciprocity norms” when you read the upcoming article).

Hazel is an education advocate who hosts an online community from New Zealand (which explains some differences in slang and spelling you will find in articles written by her).

I found her voice, her background and her community impressive and fascinating, so I accepted her invitation to blog occasionally on her platform.

In THIS article, she is “returning the favor,” offering us some information I believe our entire community sorely needs — a beginners’ explanation of some of the “rules” of this whole “internet communities” thing! In other words, an introduction to the concept of Digital Literacy (dialogue with her in the comments section if you have questions – this lady KNOWs!)

Internet Alzheimer’s 🙂

Regular readers of are most likely aware of my own technical challenges and frustrations. Most days I feel like a dolt who used to be on top of things.

Although I was once a computer professional myself, it was MANY years ago – decades that might as well be centuries in internet time.  The computer world moves rapidly, so practically nothing from those years offers me any help what-so-ever!!

In fact, after almost four years “off-line” as the result of some personal and health challenges, it seems now that my first instincts about how to do practically anything online are almost always wrong-wrong-wrong.

To make matters even worse, the people I asked (even paid!) for help didn’t seem to get it that I was unable to understand even their explanations, such was the depth of my cluelessness.

  • I had no IDEA how to “work” the software they suggested I download
    to “help.”
  • Other than “scroll” and a few other basic words that meant exactly
    what they used to mean, I was almost totally unfamiliar with the
    vocabulary they employed as they endeavored to enlighten me.

Oh goodie, more “in-order-to’s” to master .  .  . must I now give up bathing
and sleeping to fit it all in?

Hazel to the Rescue!

Hazel Owen
It turns out, you don’t NEED to be a technical guru to participate in the developing trend toward global connection.

There are a few basics you do need to know to keep from stepping in – um – trouble by violating the social expectations of the rest of Planet Internet.

After that, however, you can develop your “online literacy” at a pace most of us over here on Planet ADD will be able to manage without giving up basic self-care.

And now, without further ado, H-E-R-E-‘ s Hazel!


UPDATE 4/28: Be SURE to read & respond to Hazel’s offer in the Comments section below –
we have a GURU ready-willing-and-ABLE to help us out!

How do you mutually support each other
in online communities?
Some reflections and suggestions

guest post from Hazel Owen

Image cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by re-Verse:

© licensed (BY NC ND) flickr photo by re-Verse:

Personally and professionally, I don’t know what I would do without being a member of online communities.

I am constantly challenged to think and reflect, as well as affirmed or guided in some of the ideas I am developing.

On the social side, I have had the pleasure and privilege of ‘meeting’ a vast variety of people from around the world, including Madelyn, who are incredibly generous with their time, and with sharing their thinking.

You might be saying to yourself,

  • “But I don’t have anything to say that hasn’t already been said,”
  • “I don’t have time,” or
  • “What if I say something wrong?”

I know I had similar concerns before I started getting involved in online communities.

So why might you want to get involved?

In July 2011 in her blog post Creating Community Together, Madelyn threw down a challenge that read as follows:

“Let’s work together for the mutual good of our communities and our planet – becoming resources for each other because it is simply the right thing to do – meaning the thing that will create the kind of world we want – a world that works for EVERYONE.”

You may have already taken up her challenge and are comfortably participating in and contributing to online communities. But you may also be sitting on the fence and not feeling very comfortable about jumping into the online community spaces where you may feel you need to build your digital literacy skills before joining the conversations.

In this blog post I would like to describe what I mean by digital literacy skills, give a brief overview why your voice is important in online communities, and finally, I’ll provide a grab-bag guide to getting involved.

Why online communities?

Over a period of about 13 years I had become increasingly interested in how human beings interact and ‘learn’ in online spaces, especially when they are offered opportunities to become **immersed. An immersive environment enables people to experience a variety of approaches and ideas, at the same time as exploring them intellectually.

During this period the Internet grew in popularity as a place for formal and informal learning, and hardware and software became more affordable. I have become increasingly excited by the potential of eLearning and Mobile Learning (mLearning). Being able to connect is providing a range of ways to co-construct understanding, to develop creative problem solving skills, and to become more culturally aware. This, however, entails a paradigm shift away from content to a greater focus on mutual support and synergistic thinking, as well as an increasing requirement for individuals to possess digital literacy skills.

**Immersive digital environment / experience: Adapted from gaming environments, references to immersive experiences illustrate instances where an online CoP member becomes immersed in the ‘narrative’ of the community and its interactions. As such, the member feels as though they are part of an online ‘universe’, where they have the option to create and design the spaces (Adams, 2004).

What is digital literacy?

Digital literacy can be broadly categorised in three distinct skills sets (Reynard, 2009).

  • The first skill set is being able to navigate the Internet to locate and evaluate resources.
  • The second skill set includes being able to create, repurpose, share and comment on resources hosted on the Internet.

These skills usually require some sort of account creation or membership to a community (for example, YouTube), as well as awareness of rights to use and re-use digital objects. Associated activities may include the sharing of links, images, or commenting on blogs.

To move to this stage of development is to move from the consumption of digital resources to the creation or adoption of an online identity.

  • The third skill set involves the co-creation of ideas online and the active cultivation of an online identity. This requires a sophisticated level of digital literacy skills, whereby participants make sense of existing knowledge and reinterpret it in a way that fits within their existing knowledge framework, thereby, disconnecting, and reconnecting “knowledge fragments through knowledge creation” (Littlejohn, 2011, Para. 3). This sense-making will often occur within learning ecologies, online communities and networks (Siemens, 2003).

Healthy, established online communities tend to have members who have developed mutual trust and respect, and are reasonably confident in their digital literacy skills.

Other members, who remain readers of conversations and content (sometimes known as ‘lurkers’) are likely to have developing digital literacies, less confidence in their online persona. That is not to say one is necessarily directly related to the other, but rather to highlight that full participation, which leads to an immersive experience, requires digital literacies development.

Why your voice is important

I have explored online communities in a variety of situations, prior to taking on the position of national coordinator in New Zealand of a pilot project to develop a Virtual Professional Learning and Development (VPLD) Model (initiated in October 2009 by the Ministry of Education, who also funded the project).

My initial experiences were in line with the current research findings of the time (e.g. Hallam, 2008; McDermott, 2002) – but it was one thing reading about the challenges and another thing experiencing them!

I found that a vibrant online community depended on establishing a balance between too little and too much communication, between facilitated and organic activities/contributions, and between confident and ‘developing’ contributors.

I discovered that, with encouragement and support, members could be mentored through the process of developing digital literacy skills. However, many members had not participated in an online community before, and were not aware of the level of engagement required to really get the ball rolling, so community enthusiasm waxed and waned.

I was frequently disappointed that I was the only one to respond to a post or discussion, or that responses were superficial.

Without a reasonable level of engagement from online community members, there was little sense of a mutual support network, and in turn, of their voices influencing developments and policy.

Nevertheless, slowly but surely, membership, momentum and the quality and quantity of contributions grew over the next 3½ years.

Some of the challenges

Time and opportunities are needed for the more confident members to ‘model’ some online community building behaviours, so that other members are able to build an identity within a newly formed group. Individual participants also face challenges that include (but are not limited to):

  • unfamiliarity with netiquette and notions of reciprocity in an online space
  • uncertainty of purpose
  • lack of confidence in the value of their contributions
  • workload and other life commitments (which impact the level of community engagement)
  • little or no peer support
  • lack of access to appropriate technology and connectivity.

A grab-bag guide to getting involved in online communities

One of the things you need to do, if you want to get involved, is join a community. First you’ll need to find an online community that is formed around a topic that interests you. This could be through recommendations from friends or colleagues, or through a simple online search.

Once you have found a likely community take a trip around – set by 30 or 40 minutes to dip into all the spaces on the community site, and get a feel for the tone of the conversations.

  • If you don’t like the tone, don’t join the community.
  • Don’t give up though – find another one that seems to be more your ‘fit’.

And then, once you have joined:

  • Set up an online profile.

Start by considering what other members of this specific community would be interested in; keep it short and sweet initially. And don’t share anything you wouldn’t be comfortable sharing with someone if you met them face-to-face for the first time.

  • Upload an image to your profile; it doesn’t have to be of you – it can be your dog, your cat, your garden, your car, or something meaningful to you.

An image helps people feel as though they are ‘getting to know you’ because, as humans, we are pretty visual creatures.

  • Within two weeks of joining the community, find a blog post, resource, or online discussion that resonates with you in some way and ‘like’ it.
  • Within one month of joining keep your eyes open for a blog post, resource, or online discussion that resonates with you in some way and leave a comment.
  • In no longer than two months, locate a resource you think is interesting or useful, and share it with the community.

You only need to add a couple of sentences about why the resource caught your attention.

And don’t get disheartened if you don’t get any responses…other folks are going through the same online journey as you 🙂


So NOW you know that if you found this information helpful, “reciprocity” means you INTERACT, right?

So THAT means that you do one or more of the following —


  • click “like” on the page (from the TOP on the WordPress Menubar for visitors – anyone can “like” at the bottom, near my tiny photo below, where I clicked to “like”)
  • share it on one of your social networks, like FaceBook, LinkedIn, etc. (at the bottom of the article, on THIS blog – placement can vary by blog)
  • leave a comment (keep scrolling down for comments – AND you can reply to comments from others to get a full-fledged conversation going), or
  • rate it five stars, found at the top – you’re pretty great about that already, btw!

As always, the goal is to affirm and acknowledge, not to “vote” or argue — so keep things totally positive as you interact, even if your point of view is completely different as you speak your truth ~ mgh


  • McDermott, R. (2002). Knowing is a human act. Upgrade: The European Online Magazine for the IT Professional, 3(1), 8-10.

Related here on ADD-and-So-Much-MORE

Related Articles from Ethos Consultancy

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

21 Responses to Participating in Online Communities for Mutual Support

  1. Pingback: ICT Enhanced Learning and Teaching's Blog

  2. Thank you ladies for your collaboration to get this information ball rolling. I for one love the proposed topic list. Like Madelyn, I was riding the crest of the technology wave some years back but fell off my board and have floundered around since; just not allocating the time to keep up with the developments and actively participate. BUT I have put time aside this US summer to climb back up on the ‘techno surfboard’! and get informed and develop a virtual presence so I can connect with my pears and potential clients. So I am keen to read and participate as much as poss to learn and develop the skills needed. Hope to meet you both virtually and perhaps in person too. I live on the New Zealand Kapiti Coast for half the year and the US the rest of the time. Cheers, Lindsay
    ADHD Coaching & Consulting


    • WELL! – could your living situation be any more perfect odds for meeting BOTH of us “in person?”

      Thanks for taking the time to ring in here. I’m thinking that if there are more like the two of us, some kind of virtual “tech mastermind group” this summer could be a fun way to amplify learning (kind of like that investment group where all the “ladies” shared resources and made a fortune). We could each investigate a particular solution and report best practices back to the group, each of us ringing in as a resource for the care and usage of a particular solution.

      Any interest?


    • Hello, Lindsay. It was great to receive your response…and thanks for the feedback on the topic list 🙂 (I’d better get to work! 😉 ).

      Interesting to hear that you fell off the techno surf board (and what a lovely way to express that sense of being on top of things and then, ‘whump’…). If, while you are finding your balance on the board again, please make a note of questions that arise. And then, pop any ponderings or wonderings here. It’s a neat way to start to figure out what you feel your online identity will be.

      It would be great to meet you virtually, and perhaps in person 🙂 The Kapiti Coast is a lovely area. I spent a few months in Paraparaumu quite a few years back, and thoroughly enjoyed my time there…especially eating the ice-cream.



      • I’m having trouble posting to the blog? Responded before to you Hazel and Madelyn but on both occasions lost the post when I filled in my details below. Keeping this short in case it happens again. Basically heading back to the states in a few days so bizeee. I’ll be in touch when the dust settles there. Looking forward to meeting and working with you both in one capacity or another. Cheers, Lindsay


        • Sorry you are having trouble, Lindsay – I have been having trouble with WordPress for a couple of month now – bubbles under plastic, one thing changes, problems elsewhere. I will contact the “Happiness Engineers” again.

          Meanwhile, I have also had answers to comments disappear into thin air. I have observed that moving your cursor off the comment box (like attempting to make an edit, for example) sometimes causes the problem.

          Meanwhile, I have also had answers to comments disappear into thin air – attempting to post. I have observed that moving your cursor off the comment box (like attempting to make an edit, for example – or attempting to post the comment) tends to cause the problem most often.

          The other possibility is that I must approve all comments (@#$! spammers) – and I have been ill for a week – sleeping ’round the clock – so have not been working on the blog.

          Welcome back to the US! We’ll be in touch.


        • Hi Lindsay

          It’s a real bind when you lose your post (grrr) – I’m always doing it with Blogger. Something I now do is highlight and then right click / copy my post before trying to fill in email details or log in when replying to posts. Then, if it all goes horribly wrong I can just right click / paste my post back into the reply box once I have sorted out the contact details.

          Good luck with your travel back to the States. And I’m very much looking forward to being in touch again.

          All the best. Hazel 🙂


          • I have taken to doing that too – sure beats pasting back and forth from Word (which is what I WAS doing).

            HOWEVER – it does add an annoying step** to have to remember until it becomes a habit — NOT directly related to the task and would not not be necessary if platform “improvements” were beta tested BEFORE release.

            **Especially problematic for those with EFDs and smaller short-term memory buffers.

            Can you tell that, TODAY, my love/hate relationship with technology is heavily weighted to the dark side? – grrrrrr – a job at Burger King is looking like it would be a major life-upgrade. They haven’t automated it yet, have they?



  3. I am glowing :-), definitely flattered ;-), and so pleased you are chuffed to bits (100% correct usage!). Thank you very much for the invitation.

    Your intro and comments, I felt, framed the article up beautifully – thank you; (t was a blow you had to re-format though). Thank you also for the links back…modelling reciprocity in the process. You’re a star.

    Are you OK for me to cross-post this article, with your intro and outro, and of course with links back to 🙂

    The words ‘change’ and ‘technology’ appear to be synonymous, and, as you say, there is a rich and varied vocabulary around the topic, which itself differs depending on where you are on the developer / user continuum. I would be delighted to work with your readers around this topic – and am really happy to answer any questions folks may have. And if anyone has experiences they would like to share that would be super.

    Does anyone have suggestions around a topic they would like me to cover in my next article?

    Some of the areas I could look at are:
    – more advanced community participation and the art of blogging
    – Creative Commons, and online (legal) sharing / re-purposing
    – the wonderful world of Web 2.0
    – how to stay safe online
    – first steps to building your online identity
    I’d be really pleased to cover these, but if your readers have any topics or skills they would like to suggest I would be over the moon to cover them.

    Thanks again, Madelyn. It’s a real joy getting to know you.
    Hazel xx


    • I’ll have to return to continue this reply – rushing – but I’m thrilled you’re thrilled, and wanted to approve your comments & questions ASAP


    • 4//29/13 — I’m b-a-a-a-c-k!
      Your request to cross-post sources my first question. I LOVE having anything I create “out there” (with attribution & links, of course), so I am not only FINE, I’m thrilled.

      BUT . . . I have read (from those “make a million on the i-net” folks that inundate my email inbox) that the search engines penalize “duplicate” posting. Can you ring in on that?

      While you’re at it,
      what about the ratio of inbound to outbound links?

      As you’ve noted, my posts always link to any good supports I can locate in the amount of time I have to dedicate, yet VERY few I link to link BACK.

      I have also read that sites that don’t get links back fall in SEO rankings.

      If that’s true, wouldn’t it mean that sites like mine won’t get found in a search, making it really TOUGH to let people know the resource is available — which means I am TOTALLY wasting MANY hours of [unbillable] time unless I ALSO am able to throw money at marketing the content.

      SURELY the i-net world is NOT set up to PENALIZE generosity and encourage selfishness and competition — is it?

      If it IS, is there a work-around? (other than a rich sponsor who markets my site in exchange for winking-blinking ADS that make the site practically unusable for my readers)




      • [mgh comment: I high-lighted some areas to make them easier to find, content was not changed otherwise]

        Hi again. I’ve been doing some homework, and have a few responses (answers?) for you.

        1. I have read (from those “make a million on the i-net” folks that inundate my email inbox) that the search engines penalize “duplicate” posting. Can you ring in on that?

        I found this super (but very long) article that looks at this in depth: In a nutshell, duplicate content is no longer penalized, although Google may filter out duplicate content…especially where the URL is very similar across the two pages.

        Prior to 2006, Google dealt with the challenge of indexing the web as follows: “some pages that were seen as duplicates or just very low quality were stored in a secondary index called the “supplemental” index. These pages automatically became 2nd-class citizens, from an SEO perspective, and lost any competitive ranking ability” (source:

        Post 2006 (according to the same article) “Google integrated supplemental results back into the main index, but those results were still often filtered out”.

        In other words, pre-2006 it was a big issue, post 2006, it is less of an issue, especially if most of the content on your site is not syndicated (see no: 17 and 19 of V. Examples of Duplicate Content in the article). The main issue occurs when there is duplicate content on the same site (i.e. similar URL), although duplicate / similar content on different sites can return fewer hits.

        Dr Pete, the author of this article, advises, however: “Practically, I think it depends on the scope. If you occasionally syndicate content to beef up your own offerings but also have plenty of unique material, then link back and leave it alone” :-).

        2. While you’re at it, what about the ratio of inbound to outbound links?
        This is a bit trickier, in part because it depends on what you are measuring, and what you are using to measure it…and why you are measuring it ;-).

        Another article – this one with a marketing slant, talks, I felt, quite well about outbound versus inbound links: Check out in particular the watering hole analogy toward the end, and also the first comments that summarises it all quite nicely.

        MOST IMPORTANT though, is your underlying sense of sharing and ethics. Yes – we have to make a crust, but I get the sense that it is the community, opportunities for co-construction, and creativity that appeal too. I would strongly recommend that you watch this video (shared by John Owen on the Ethos Online Community), where Amanda Palmer talks about making her music available for free, and people choose whether they pay for it…and she (by asking and building relationships) also asks for their help to fund her work:

        [mgh comment: I’ve seen it, and I agree – READERS – go check it out!]

        See what you think – for me, it answered a heap of questions…or at least put them into the pile of – I like sharing too much to worry about the odd bit of duplicate content 😉


        • @ Hazel\

          FINALLY FOUND IT! More than one “live” link gets you auto-spammed (66+ THOUSAND link-spam posts in slightly over one year – I have no choice but to filter them OUT or I’d drown in them).

          Work-around is to leave off the “http://” part and insert a space in front of the .com etc. (I can fix in edit, if I *see* the darned thing in the first place). OR, you can simply leave a quickie SECOND comment like “just sent comment with a ton of links – go get and approve” – then I will jump into the spam-trashcan and you will be in the first couple of pages, approve you & delete the “go get” comment)

          -OR- we could take out a contract on the multi-level make-a-million-on-the-internet marketers who are encouraging the link-spam to begin with and get RID of the idiots??? 😀 — my first choice, but then I don’t really want to go to jail either.



        • I am so pleased (and relieved) that you found the comment 🙂 (but sorry to put you to so much trouble. I’ll remember the the tip re: leaving off the “http//:” or adding a second comment.

          I rather like your suggestion re: getting rid of the idiots actually…the obvious downside (as you point out) is the jail time 😉

          xxx Hazel


      • Hi Madelyn 🙂

        Just a quick email – sitting in the hairdressers catching up with things on the go!

        I was wondering if the reply I put together in response to your questions and concerns ‘posted’ OK? I wanted to find out what you thought before I went ahead and cross-posted (you’ll see what I mean when you read the reply….hope it did post OK as it was quite l-o-n-g! ;-p).

        Hazel xx


  4. Hazel, this is GREAT! I just found your email this afternoon, and had to reformat the article on the Google “share edits” site to be able to get it up here in the environment (unfortunately!), but it was SO worth my time to have something like this on

    As [I think] you say in New Zealand, I’M CHUFFED TO BITS!

    In addition to my intro and some new links in your article above, I have added a link to your name in the menubar above (Guest Bloggers) and you have your own category, which drives content to your listing.

    NOW, are you sufficiently flattered to continue to educate my readers with a new article every once in a while, time permitting, of course? (Oh, who am I kidding, this is a perfectly selfish request, hoping for a “cure” to my Tech Alzheimer’s)

    Pretty please — I’ll be your best friend (as we used to say here in the USA when we really-really-really wanted a YES! – but I’m probably dating myself 🙂 )

    This was terrific, and a SUPER idea for a topic. Thank you SO much.



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