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I will be in the capable hands of Etienne Wenger, the CoP (Communities of Practice) guru, John D. Smith, a community coach and technologist with whom I have worked before, and Bronwyn Stuckey, an educational researcher and online facilitator whose navigation of time and space amazes me. I have read about and studied CoP for some time now, though really like the idea of focusing on it as an experience in itself.
As my doctoral program at Lancaster University is focused around the CoP (network learning) model, and as my recent research uses CoPs as the theoretical framework, I thought that spending some time with colleagues who have related interests may be a good experience.
Wonder what I will learn over the seven weeks, and how my own learning framework may develop . . .
I begin my research interviews tomorrow, so now may be a good time to consider some of my questions, both planned as well as possible.
The purpose of the study is to examine and try to understand, in some way, if Wenger’s Community of Practice (CoP) framework makes a difference within the research or experiential lives of those who conduct autoethnographic research, especially given that many in the larger research community still see this as a contested strategy of inquiry.
While there are numerous works from Wenger that I will detail in my literature section, the two that I have in mind at this point is his
Wenger, E. (1999). Learning as social participation. Knowledge ManagementReview, 1(6), 30-33.
I am being guided by Wenger’s Model (from the first article):
and from his defininition (from the second reference above):
Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.
where he discusses them as (also from the second reference above):
Note that this definition allows for, but does not assume, intentionality: learning can be the reason the community comes together or an incidental outcome of member’s interactions. Not everything called a community is a community of practice. A neighborhood for instance, is often called a community, but is usually not a community of practice. Three characteristics are crucial:
1. The domain: A community of practice is not merely a club of friends or a network of connections between people. It has an identity defined by a shared domain of interest. Membership therefore implies a commitment to the domain, and therefore a shared competence that distinguishes members from other people. (You could belong to the same network as someone and never know it.) The domain is not necessarily something recognized as “expertise” outside the community. A youth gang may have developed all sorts of ways of dealing with their domain: surviving on the street and maintaining some kind of identity they can live with. They value their collective competence and learn from each other, even though few people outside the group may value or even recognize their expertise.
2. The community: In pursuing their interest in their domain, members engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information. They build relationships that enable them to learn from each other. A website in itself is not a community of practice. Having the same job or the same title does not make for a community of practice unless members interact and learn together. The claims processors in a large insurance company or students in American high schools may have much in common, yet unless they interact and learn together, they do not form a community of practice. But members of a community of practice do not necessarily work together on a daily basis. The Impressionists, for instance, used to meet in cafes and studios to discuss the style of painting they were inventing together. These interactions were essential to making them a community of practice even though they often painted alone.
3. The practice: A community of practice is not merely a community of interest–people who like certain kinds of movies, for instance. Members of a community of practice are practitioners. They develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems�in short a shared practice. This takes time and sustained interaction. A good conversation with a stranger on an airplane may give you all sorts of interesting insights, but it does not in itself make for a community of practice. The development of a shared practice may be more or less self-conscious. The “windshield wipers” engineers at an auto manufacturer make a concerted effort to collect and document the tricks and lessons they have learned into a knowledge base. By contrast, nurses who meet regularly for lunch in a hospital cafeteria may not realize that their lunch discussions are one of their main sources of knowledge about how to care for patients. Still, in the course of all these conversations, they have developed a set of stories and cases that have become a shared repertoire for their practice.
The interview discussion will be informal and topics may emerge as ideas are exchanged. I hope to address (2) areas of inquiry:
1. What support or encouragement do you (or did you) have when you engage(d) in your research?
2. Do you find yourself a member of any identifiable community (of practice) that plays a role with your autoethnographic research?
I have gotten some feedback from some colleague who I shared these ideas with, and there was some general encouragement for me to explore the option related to the community of practice idea (for my next Lancaster PhD module research project). Surprisingly, there was also some encouragement to try a different strategy of inquiry for the benefit of experiencing something new as well as to experience the meaning-making process from another perspective.
Taking this to heart, this is the idea I am now developing for my research project. I know it needs to be further developed and elaborated upon, though I think it is clear enough for at least some initial feedback:
Introduction 1. Research Problem
Autoethnographic research is growing in usage, though is still not widely accepted in traditional academic research circles. With the dispersion of advocates of this research, there would seem to be a need for a the engagement and support of (dispersed) communities of practice around those who engage in this work. Without knowing anything about these communities,including whether they exist and what technologies they may employ, it may be more of a challenge to understand the process of engaging and creating this research strategy. We need to know more about the role of communities of practice in the lives of autoethnographic researchers.
2. Studies Addressing the Problem
(TBD) – very little, thus far
3. Deficiencies in the Literature
(TBD) – a lot, thus far
(TBD) – already included above, will be further developed after brief literature review above
Purpose What is the role of communities of practice play in the lives of those who engage in autoethnographic research?
Review of the Literature This will revolve around autoethnography, communities of practice, and dispersed (technology usage in) communities of practice
1. Philosophical Worldview
I am approaching this from a constructivist / critical theorist paradigm
2. Strategy of Inquiry
I am seeking to use Narrative Inquiry
3. Research Method
Review of published autoethnographic research documents or audio-visuals of informants, and interviews
Research Questions (TBD) – I am still working on these
See Research Method above. Will tape interviews and transcribe recording. Will read documents / view audio-visual.
Analysis and Interpretation (TBD) – Iam still working on these
Reliability, Validity, and Generalizability (TBD) – I am stillworking on these
Week 6 of the online class I am taking, Facilitating Online Communities, is just finishing, and our assignment is to search out an online community and identify the features of why it is one. To be fair, the assignment is a little more involved, but this is the part I am planning to focus upon.
SCoPE jumps to mind. Sylvia Currie, one of my colleagues at a distance who is also taking this class and with whom I have participated in several online events, is the community organizer of this wonderful online association.
When I started attending professional development workshops at this online community, with the by-line “SCoPE brings together individuals who share an interest in educational research and practice,” I really was rather new to the concept of online community. In fact, the only reason I attended after all is because I did not have any other available professional education and development opportunities at the time. I had no concept of it as a community, nor was that something I would have sought out even had I recognized it as one. At the time, I saw education and professional development as something that one (me) does independently to improve one’s own classroom experiences. I had no idea about the collaborative and connected power of getting people together who have some common interests and experiences to share and develop together. That is something that came about from attending a number of the SCoPE sessions where I gradually experienced these benefits.
I have learned and reflected a lot on online communities over the past couple of years, and am finally trying to put into words what identifying features I now think I am looking for in an online community:
Similar Interests — I am looking for people who have some similar interests, whether professional interests, academic interests, hobbies, or the like. I find it easier to work with people I meet in SCoPE who have similar interests in online learning, qualitative research, and educational technology for adult education. That many of these people also are interested in professional development opportunities and gladly share what they have learned to help others (me) not re-invent the wheel is an added bonus.
Passion for Work — A number of the people who I have met along the way and with whom I am always happy to share continued online opportunities and sessions are those who are not afraid to work for something they want. They have a passion for going above and beyond the minimum in order to have (and share) the best experiences they can toward similar and related goals.
Active Communication — Good communication is one of those hidden factors that supports or dooms communities. Maintaining connections online, with the variety of social media and communication media available, can be a challenge at times, and those who communicate in ways that their listeners and colleagues can best hear their messages and reply are those who are most effective at building and supporting communities.
There indeed may be other factors to consider, and for them and for other perspectives on this topic I will in turn look at my own community in this class, such as Illya Arnet-Clark, Mike Bogle, Nellie Deutsch, Barbara Dieu, and Amy Lenzo. What better resources than colleagues considering some of the same issues?
To end this thinking here, I suppose facilitating these factors involves the similar interests, passion, and communication that I listed above. Of course, organization and time management and project planning and staying current are also important. This reminds me of the Technology Stewardship discussions that other colleagues, John Smith, Nancy White, and Etienne Wenger, have been building and sharing with the larger community.
I think I have a lot of good examples to continue to learn from!