Communities of Practice

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 3 Communities of Practice (CoP) is a term of “relatively recent coinage, even though the phenomenon it refers to is age-old” (Wenger 2006). CoP gained notoriety through the publication of Etienne Wenger and Jean Lave’s book Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. The key message in the book, drawn out through a number of case studies, is that “newcomers interact with old-timers to acquire knowledge” (Francois & Quek 2011). Although such statements about learning may appear obvious, they are in fact quite distinct from more traditional pedagogical viewpoints: “learning theorists have rejected transfer models, which isolate knowledge from practice and developed a view of learning as social construction, putting knowledge back into the contexts in which it has meaning” (Brown & Duguid 1991). The argument in this paper builds on the assumption that facilitating learning, and knowledge transfer, are key indicators and signatures of impact.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Wenger (2006) describes three characteristics that are considered crucial to CoP theory:

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  • Domain; a shared interest
  • Community; how constituents are connected
  • Practice; shared or similar experiences that are sustained over time

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 1 By understanding these characteristics it’s possible to design systems and circumstances so that CoP are more likely to emerge.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 1 In Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems, Wenger recapitulates the sentiments of his foundational work on CoP, but refocuses on social aspects of learning as opposed to purely practice-based learning. Wenger uses this example: let’s assume you believe that the Earth is round and it orbits the sun, but how do you know that? It’s unlikely (for most of us) that we’ve been part of a community that has actively engaged in the maths, physics and observations required to demonstrate that the Earth is round, so how do we know? Wenger posits that your knowledge is based upon generations worth of accumulated learning, and that happens in a community. The community as a whole has the breadth of knowledge, and it is your relationship with the community that means you ‘know’ that the Earth orbits the sun. By possessing this knowledge, you are implicitly a participant in a social learning system. The theory extrapolates further how communities learn socially with another three characteristics (Wenger 2000):

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  • Joint enterprise; a collective understanding and competence to contribute
  • Mutuality; establishment of norms, respect, partnership
  • Shared repertoire; shared resources (such as language, styles, tools, stories)

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Learning, at any scope (e.g. within a school, department, University, or even globally), can be described in terms of these characteristics.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 2 Brown (2002) discusses how the web has transformed learning in terms of CoP, and focuses on the idea that “each of us is part consumer and part producer”. This is two-way interaction structure has been echoed in academia traditionally thorough citing prior work, a tradition that’s been accelerated by the web-revolution. However the provenance of the consumer/producer interactions isn’t represented in impact metrics, which when considered from a CoP perspective seems like it could be a damaging oversight.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Various studies show that that applying CoP theory to online (and geographically distributed) communities isn’t always straightforward but is feasible (Ardichvili et. al. 2003) and can be valuable (Sherer et. al. 2003). The virtual communities that Ardichvili and Sherer refer to, are similar to the community of scholarly authors citing each others work, culminating in tangible connections arising out of intangible citations.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 4 The arguments that conclude this paper are build on the premise that the corpus of scholarly literature itself, scholars consuming it, and authors contributing to it, can be considered a community of practice as described by both triads of characteristics above. The following reviews of impact metrics, are intended to contextualise the argument that none (of the impact metrics) consider the tacit value of social learning or CoP.

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Source: http://communitiesofimpact.joesart.org/communities-of-practice/