Using Q-Sort Methodology to test the Non-hierarchical Online Learning Community (NHOLC) Framework


  • Ruth Kermish-Allen Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance
  • Kate Kastelein Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance



online communities, online civic participation, Q Sort Methodology, online collaboration, citizen science


The Non-Hierarchical Online Learning Community (NHOLC) conceptual framework was designed to leverage the understanding of sociocultural learning theory and community informatics to inform design principles for citizen science online learning communities that inspire online collaboration and local environmental action. The study presented here applies the NHOLC framework, using a Q-Sort methodology, to three online learning communities for citizens that were successful in fostering online collaboration and environmental actions. The findings of this paper provide tangible design principles that can be used to develop or revise online learning communities for citizen science instead of re-inventing the wheel for each newly emerging project.

Author Biographies

Ruth Kermish-Allen, Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance

Dr. Ruth Kermish-Allen is executive director of the Maine Math and Science Alliance.  In her work at MMSA she works towards connecting the outstanding organizations and individuals committed to rural community-based STEM education across the state and nation.  She has a passion for designing and researching educational environments that empower learners with the skills, experiences, and confidence to find creative solutions to the environmental and social challenges they care about.  She has extensive experience in developing environmental Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education programs based on a model incorporating 1) place-based education; 2) cutting-edge technologies; and 3) non-hierarchical learning communities (adult community members and youth working together).  Ruth received her PhD in Environmental Studies with a focus on STEM education at Antioch University New England, M.Ed. in Science and Environmental Education from the University of Maine, and her B.S. in Environmental Science from Ramapo College of New Jersey. Ruth was a high school science and math teacher on North Haven and other coastal Maine schools with an expertise in developing community-based curriculum. Her current research focuses on defining the essential design elements for online learning communities for use in citizen science projects, specifically those that foster online collaboration and local community actions.

Kate Kastelein, Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance

Kate Kastelein is a research associate at the Maine Math and Science Alliance. Her work at MMSA focuses on researching various components of STEM-based learning in Maine, both in and out of school. She is particularly interested in the connections between various organizations, community members and educational institutions within STEM ecosystems. Kate has extensive experience as a writer and researcher and has worked in the private and non-profit sector. She has a BA in Humanities from the University of Southern Maine where she is currently pursuing an MFA.






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