Facilitating Communities of Practice in the Network Era

Two days ago I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to attend a workshop at UCT facilitated by Nancy White (1), who co-wrote Digital habitats: stewarding technology for communities (2) with Etienne Wenger and John David Smith. Presentation slides from the workshop can be downloaded / viewed here. Unfortunately, I could only stay for the morning session, so my notes are  incomplete and they may be incorrect. If you attended the workshop and would like to extend these notes, please add your comments below.

The workshop started with the Human Spectrogram, “a group face to face exercise to help surface similarities and differences in a group, help people to get to know each other and to do something together that is active. Other knowledge sharing toolkits can be found here.
Communities collectively accept responsibility for the behaviour of others in the community
Community is about purpose and specifically, shared purpose
Reciprocity is very important in communities, although not necessarily with the same person who shared with you
Leading / facilitating CoP will often require improvisation / innovation
“Community indicator = sign of life: asking questions / showing something that delves deeper into what the community is or wants to be. It can vary by community, and should be reflective of the community
Use of metaphor can be evocative. If you’re too explicit, you can turn people off because they may think they know what you’re talking about, and therefore miss what you actually want them to do / think about. Whereas, using something that’s open to interpretation, or more abstract will stimulate discussion or reflection in the community.
Invitation to participate is essential. Invites can be in different forms:
  • Discovery (can be serendipitous)
  • Explicit invitation (this can take multiple forms)
Game mechanics (Amy Jo Kim) → games stimulate interest and engagement with content (3) (4) (I explored this idea a little bit last year when I was thinking about the use of gaming in physiotherapy)

Websites are not communities, people are communities
Howard Rheingold’s book “The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier” is a good exploration of online communities
How do you stop communities from fragmenting?
Facilitating online and offline communities is always evolving because the environment is always changing
A “CoP” perspective is not the same as defining if something is a CoP. CPD is an appropriate framework to explore communities:
  • Community (a group of people who can be named)
  • Practice (intent, talking about something in order to do it better
  • Domain (what we care about, shared interest, purpose)
Don’t change all 3 of the above at once, for fear of destabilising the CoP
CoP is not a binary thing. It can exist on continuum between is and isn’t
Small groups are adaptable, don’t have to negotiate (as much) in order to change, can be flexible
Institutional(?) / online interfaces are not usually designed for small groups, multiple small groups can scale out to large groups.
  • Me (individual): individual, identity, interest, trajectory, consciousness, confidence level, risk tolerance, styles, emotion
  • We (community): bounded, members who you know, group identity, shared interest, human centred, distinct power/trust dynamics, forward movement, strong blocking, statis, attention to maintenance, language
  • Many (networks): boundaryless, fuzzy, intersecting interests, “object centred sociality” (Jyri Engstrom), flows around blocks, less cohesion, distributed power/trust, change
People trust people around the content they produce. Blogs and referral systems can establish relationships around “objects” / content. This can be scary for people who are used to creating relationships around personal interactions. This has implications for how we use content to attract and engage with people. Communities are not about curating or archiving content, but for providing channels for sharing content and facilitating relationships.
There is a difference between a network and a community, and depending on your objectives, you may have to make a conscious decision about which one you want to develop towards. Networks of Practice is a concept used to explore the areas where network theory and CoP intersect (5).
  • Network – a lot of people know a lot of people, but they don’t all know each other. There are loose ties (link downloads article PDF) (Granovetter), it can scale beyond your ability to facilitate the group
  • Community – you know people more intimately, there is meaningful connection (but can also be present in networks)
Blogging and communities – Lilia Efimova
Dunbar’s number = 150 (how many stable social relationships we can manage)
People have to actively engage of their own accord without the community being “done to them”
Are we inward-facing or outward-facing in our department? Who are we looking to connect with / influence?
Legitimate peripheral participation i.e. lurking in online groups. Are they part of a network or a community? It can be argued either way. This is a big part of online social networks → community or network?
  1. Interview with Nancy White by George Siemens for the World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications
  2. Online companion to Digital Habitats:  Stewarding technology for communities
  3. Stuart, B. (2006). How game mechanics can make your app more fun – a blog post looking at some of Amy Jo Kim’s work
  4. Putting the fun in functional – presentation by Amy Jo Kim on Slideshare
  5. Knowledge Networks: Innovation through Communities of Practice
  6. Granovetter, M. (1983). The strength of weak ties: A network theory revisited. Sociological Theory, 1, 201-233 (link downloads PDF)

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-02-15

  • @ryantracey Agreed. The process, rather than the certificate, should be emphasised #
  • RT @wesleylynch: Video comparing iphone and nexus – http://ow.ly/17iBb. Can’t imagine how the iPhone will survive, Android is already better #
  • RT @psychemedia: Are Higher Degrees a waste of time for most people? http://bit.ly/buKpOW. IT professionals are hardly “most people” #
  • University finds free online classes don’t hurt enrollment http://bit.ly/9zztuR #
  • Mobile Learning Principles – interesting, but unrealistic in a developing country. “Mobile” does not = smartphone http://bit.ly/97WUu4 #
  • Presenting while people are twittering, an increasingly common backchannel. Be aware of it and use it if possible http://bit.ly/bymSUE #
  • Presentation Zen: The “Lessig Method” of presentation. Great resource on improving your presentation skills http://bit.ly/aTykYr #
  • About “P”! « Plearn Blog. This post raises some interesting questions about the challenges of using PLEs http://bit.ly/9cDqd6 #
  • Crazy Goats. I don’t usually share this sort of thing, but this pretty amazing http://bit.ly/9Hg32e #
  • Learning technologies in engineering education. For anyone interested in integrating “distance” with “practical” http://bit.ly/a9lclC #
  • Think ‘Network Structure’ not ‘Networking’. I always thought “networking” was too haphazard to bother with http://bit.ly/acuw1g #
  • Clifton beach earlier today. I think I like it here http://twitgoo.com/dv85w #
  • @davidworth Hi David, thanks for the blog plug #
  • @sharingnicely: go around institutional pushback when policy is unfriendly to OER #OCW #
  • @dkeats: free content enables students to use scarce financial resources to acquire tech instead, which grants access to vastly more content #
  • Butcher: the curricular framework must drive development of OER – content comes after learning #OCW #
  • Neil Butcher from OERAfrica: OER can’t work without institutional support #OCW #
  • Why is copyright in OER even an issue? Copyright applies equally to OER and non-OER #OCW #
  • If you think of a degree as a learning experience, rather than a certificate, formal accreditation is less important. See P2PU #OCW #
  • Is there a difference between OER and #OCW I’m wary of the emphasis on content as a means of changing teaching practice #
  • @dkeats Improvement in quality is always important, isn’t it? No-one is aiming for mediocrity #
  • OCW workshop at UWC today, OCW board present incl. MIT OCW, should be a good day, quite proud its happening here #
  • RT @cristinacost: RT @gconole: Sarah Knight on JISC elearning prog including excellent eff. practice pubs http://bit.ly/c1wVF6 #
  • RT @c4lpt: MicroECoP – Uisng microblogging to enhance communication within Communities of Practice http://bit.ly/9ofx3O #microecop #
  • Making the Pop Quiz More Positive. I like the change of mindset that the post suggests, pop quizzes aren’t punishment http://bit.ly/d5IiMV #
  • @cristinacost Looks good, you’re further along with your project than I am with mine, I might have to come to you for advice 🙂 #
  • Problem-Based Learning: A Quick Review « Teaching Professor. Nice, short summary of why PBL is a Good Thing http://bit.ly/cOAQeY #
  • @cristinacost What’s your interest in Buddypress? I recently set up WPMU/BP platform for physio dept social network to explore CoP #
  • Microblogging to enhance communication within communities of practice http://bit.ly/a0saa4 #microecop #
  • There’s a war goin’ on here, donchaknow? Retro copyright posters at EdTechPost http://bit.ly/aBsVwu #
  • Post by Howard Rheingold on crap detection on the internet should be required reading for everyone online http://bit.ly/dsGtha #
  • Scroll down for the 5 C’s of Engagement on Postrank’s “What it is” page. Is it useful for building social presence? http://bit.ly/983dcL #
  • Great post on 3 strategies to manage information: Aggregate, Filter and Connect. The last one is hard (for me anyway) http://bit.ly/diItNr #
  • Great post on the importance of not only filtering information, but using it meaningfully http://bit.ly/bk21Ol #
  • Siemens’ post on moving from educational reform within the system, to a “no boundaries” approach http://bit.ly/bMnKXu #
  • Web 3.0 and Its Relevance for Instruction – interesting article on how a next generation web could be used in education http://bit.ly/axYyEr #
  • Freedom helps kids learn more « Education Soon http://bit.ly/bBbGvB #

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The Social Media Classroom: open source collaborative teaching tool

The Social Media Classroom is a web-based teaching platform developed by Howard Rheingold, the author of Smart Mobs, which uses new web technologies like blogs, wiki, RSS, etc. to encourage collaboration between students and teachers.   I just came across it this evening and would love to play around with it a little bit.  I may have to wait for exams to finish though.

Here’s the link to a talk that Howard gave at TED in 2005:
http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/howard_rheingold_on_collaboration.html

Here’s the link:
http://socialmediaclassroom.com/