Communities of Practice: Learn, Grow and Practice Together

by / Thursday, 30 May 2019 / Published in Teaching with Technology

Communities of Practice (CoPs), first outlined by Lave and Wenger in 1991 and explored more comprehensively by Wenger in the 1998 book Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity, is essentially a group of people who learn, grow and practice together, usually – but not always – in a professional way. You may already be part of a community of practice and not even realize it. Have you joined any groups online where you ask for help with a task and someone out in the world comes back with an answer your problem? This is a perfect example of a CoP. But what exactly is a CoP, and what is the point of being part of one?

 

 

As outlined in the linked article, a CoP is a group of people “who share a concern or passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly“. There a number of types of CoPs that have existed for eons – Wenger even describes a tribe learning to survive as a CoP – but most recently we see CoPs forming and growing online. The fluidity of time and space afforded by the internet make it easier for people to come together, move in and out of groups as needed, share problems, solutions and ideas, and attract members from a much larger population. It is important to keep in mind, though, that CoPs aren’t just groups of people who share the same interests or who like to play the same games, or even who have the same job. A true CoP has three characteristics: a domain, a community and a practice:

CoPVennDiagram

Source: http://frailtyicare.org.uk

As in this diagram, those three elements come together, overlapping between pairs of elements and amongst all three. The domain is the areas of interest shared by the members of the CoP, the community is their commitment to other members by way of building relationships through shared learning and the practice is the knowledge, experiences, ideas, problems, solutions and stories they’ve joined the group to share. Thinking back to the example of people who like to play the same games, if those people joined together either in person or online simply to play, they may be considered a community, but not a community of practice. however if they all love the same game (domain), got together to meet each other and play (community) and shared tips and tricks on how to improve their skills and how to better develop the game (practice) they would then become a CoP.

CoPWordle

 

In education, a CoP can be an invaluable organization. As you can hopefully picture by now, a CoP is a place where people who do or want to do the same or a similar practice can come together to network and share ideas. Because a CoP is a great place to get support – not to mention a variety of new perspectives – being a part of one can only enhance a member’s skills, knowledge and expertise. As the world of education is undergoing constant change and development, particularly in the world of online and elearning, teachers coming to share their knowledge and experiences can help us all grow and develop together.

Here at HCT with more coursework becoming available online and with more teachers teaching online – some for the first time – there is a great opportunity for us to become part of a CoP to share what we learn as we learn it, and to help us help each other move forward. Toward that end, the Teaching with Technology department has created a new Yammer-based CoP for teaching online synchronous classes as a place for faculty to meet, share ideas, discuss issues and solutions and grow together as we move more toward blended and online teaching. The CoP is new but we hope more members will join over the next few semesters – see you there!

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