Why I attended the workshop
It has seemed to me that the phrase 'community of practice' is banded about without little thought or appreciation about what it means. It is used to describe any group and network, but as Etienne says, a community is not necessarily a community of practice. Nor is a website. So I attended the workshop to try to gain a clearer idea of the concept.
I am also very interested to think how the concept of e-mentoring can be carried out in an online community setting as opposed to one-on-one relationships.
What did I learn?
The workshop was really full on, and even now I have not completely processed everything that was discussed. Etienne was a wonderfully approachable and enthusiastic speaker. I particularly enjoyed the way he used stories to get his point across. So if nothing else, the session emphasized three key presentation elements:
- enthusiasm for subject
- using stories as illustrations
- being human, warm and approachable which includes admitting when you do not know the answer to a question.
- domain - common interest
- community - the group members help each other, share information and engage in group activities
- a shared practice - this is more than just a shared interest; it is shared experiences, resources and stories or tools.
I have been a little confused about the idea of constructing a community of practice - I have always thought that these communities only occur naturally. However, Etienne believes they can also be constructed and it does not matter how they arise, as long as the outcome is learning. However, they cannot be imposed on people and they will only work if they are perceived as useful by the participants.
Power within the group can be an issue for example, can a COP work effectively if it contains both teachers and students, one with 'power' over the other? Whilst this can be problematic, it is not insurmountable when learning drives the group.
What makes a COP work?
What Etienne did make clear is a community of practice needs support, both from within the community, and externally in the form of sponsorship. The community must find its own practice - it cannot be micro-managed. This means that if you have set up a COP, you must be prepared that the outcome may not be the one you expected or planned for.
For a COP to be truly effective, it needs participation and commitment from its members. At the same time, with an online COP, it is important to remember the 1% rule - 99% of the community will lurk whilst only 1% of people will actively participate. In order to encourage participation, there needs to be community members who take on the role of nurturing or leading the group. These are people who have a strong vision about the group and its domain.
Network or community?
In thinking about my own learning, I am still a little confused about the difference between network or community? Do I learn through my network, or is my network a community? For example, is my Twitter network actually a community of practice? After all, we share ideas and resources. I'm still getting my head around these concepts so if anyone can help provide some clarity, please let me know.
In the grand scheme of things, isn't it all semantics? Does it matter what we call what we do as long as we recognize that learning is a social activity and the outcome of our interactions is learning?
Image: 'Street party' qwertyuiop