Communities of Practice Online (CoPo)

Communities of Practice Online (CoPo)

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Qutoes from Elizabeth McPherson - Flexible Learning Leader 2000

Canberra Institute of Technology - Canberra.

Elizabeth has been involved in CoPos for many years and has extensive experience in developing and facilitating communities of practice.

Elizabeth asked me to consider the following before I began my journey to create an online communication hub for the Faculty of Tourism and Hotel Management.
' you must first first work out what it is you are creating. Is it a CoP, a network or a learning community'.

Elizabeth suggested I read the following books and articles. I have listed the information I found of interest below. From evaluating the following material I have decided that the online communication hub will begin as a network and hopefully grow into a CoPo.

Cultivating Communities of Practice by Ettienne Wenger, Richard McDermott and William M. Snyder 2002.

Ettienne et el breaks down CoPs into the following three structural elements:
‘- domain of knowledge creates common ground and a sense of common knowledge in the community. The domain inspires members to contribute and participate, guides their learning and gives meaning to their actions. Knowing the boundaries and the leading edge of the domain enables members to decide exactly what is worth sharing, how to present their ideas, and which activities to pursue.
- a community creates the social fabric of learning. A strong community fosters interactions and relationshiops based on mutual respect and trust. It encourages a willingness to share ideas, expose ones ignorance, ask difficult questions and listen carefully.
- the practice is a set of frameworks, ideas, tools, information, styles, language, stories and documents that community members share'.
Whereas the domain denotes the topic the community focuses on, the practice is the specific knowledge the community develop, shares and maintains. Wenger says it is important to develop all three elements in parallel ‘ focusing too much on one while neglecting the others can be counterproductive.

Ettiene et el uses an interesting analogy that cultivating a CoP is like cultivating a garden.
'You can do much to encourage healthy plants: till the soil, ensure they have enough nutrients, supply water, secure the right amounts of sun exposure, and protect them from pests and weeds. Similarly, organisations can do a lot to create an environment in which a CoP can prosper: value the learning they do, making time and other resources available for their work, encouraging participation, and removing barriers'.

They also list seven principls of cultivating Communities of Practice as as follows:
1. Design for evolution
2. Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives
3. Invite different levels of participation ie. management and entry level staff
4. Develop both private and public community spaces
5. Focus on value (whats in it for me)
6. Combine familiarity and excitement
7. Create a rythm for the community eg. regular meetings, regular emails

Networking and the National Training System by John Mitchell and Susan Young (Reframing the Future Project Core Ideas report 2002)

A set of criteria for analysing the health of a network could include-
- trust, what is the level of trust and mutuality?
- knowledge, how well is knowledge shared?
- access, how easy is it for members to access each other?
- engagement, how well are members listened to and assisted?
- safety, will members ignorance and needs be used against them?

Effectively Structuring Communities of Practice in VET by John Mitchell March 2003 (Reframing the Future project report 2003).

Key points raised in this report were
- community-building is needed in VET to meet common challenges such as the distances between members of the same industry or the diversity of community membership. Community building is not a luxury in VET: it is a necessity.
- many facilitators in VET use a wide reportior of community-building strategies to build relationships and to help members learn
- Advanced community building skills used by some VET facilitators include finding ways for members to communicate regularly and continuously in an atmostphere of trust, enabling collective inquiry about issues of important to the members.

The report also discussed the most important factor in a communitys success is the vitality of the leadership. Community coordinators (facilitators) perform a number of key functions:
- identifying important issues in their domain
- planning and facilitating community events
- informally linking community members
- forstering the development of community members
- managing the boundary between community and the formal organisation
- helping build the practice, including the knowledge base, lessons learned, best practices, tools and methods
- assessing the health of a community and evaluting its contributions to members and the organsiation

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