North of Scotland, 25 miles south west of the Shetland Islands, lies Frjóey (Sheep Island - from the Norse) or Fair Isle. About 3 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, it is the most remote inhabited island in the United Kingdom. Despite its almost complete lack of raw materials, Fair Isle has been occupied since the Bronze Age.
The resourcefulness of the people of Fair Isle is extraordinary.
The principle occupation of the men is crofting. The people subsist almost entirely on their own fine produce of meat and vegetables.
Their intricate Fair Isle patterns are legendary and are favourites in fabric and textile industries, local and world-wide.A wind-powered electricity supply seasonally provides between 50% and 85% of the island’s electricity needs. Fair Isle is a world leader in the use of renewable energy.
In 1900 there were 300 inhabitants. Less than 70 people live there today, ranging in age from 6 months to 96 years old. But what is truly remarkable is that the community has a lifestyle based almost entirely on mutual help and community effort. Disputes between individuals or between families on the island are virtually unknown; such is their dependency on, and commitment to cooperation and mutual support.
The commitment to cooperation and mutual support is self-sustaining.
It is what has permitted the people of Fair Isle to live as a community for thousands of years.
A lesson in community
There is much to be learnt from the people of Fair Isle. In recent years, people networks, groups and communities, and the relevance of their activity in present day education, have captured my attention.
A fascination for the behaviour of communities and a desire to learn how to encourage learners to participate within learning groups, motivated me to become a blogger in May last year.
Through my own practice and research, I’ve discovered that achieving a sustainable online learning community is very difficult. Over the years, and especially recently, I’ve been relieved though not satisfied to learn, from many different sources, that it’s not just me. Teacher/facilitator reports of the endeavour needed to engage online learners in community participation are to be found everywhere I look.
So-called learning communities are capricious in the way they perform. Growing an online learning community needs a specialist skill. It also takes a lot of time, effort and patience. Such undertakings do not always achieve the desired learning successes. In Clark Quinn's recent post Real Community, he questions if what we call online communities are really communities. I continue to look, learn and try to understand how some communities function and survive.Taking a lesson from the people of Fair Isle, how can a sustained commitment to cooperation and mutual support be brought about in a group of online learners?
courtesy Lise Sinclair
courtesy Lise Sinclair