I have just started reading the book ‘Digital habitats: stewarding technology for communities’ by Etienne Wenger, Nancy White and John, D. Smith.
This book is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to establish a community of practice using technology.
If you are not quite sure what a community of practice is, you will find this short interview with Etienne useful.
The authors have tried to appeal to three overlapping groups:
- Deep divers – those who are interested in exploring connections between the use of technology and communities of practice
- Attentive practitioners – those who are interested in developing their own practice
- Just do it-ers: those who get in and make things happen – these are the people who get in and support the technology within the community
I see myself in the first and the third group.
How do you know if you belong to a community of practice?
Often engagement in the community focuses on something community members care about rather than what might be just a passing interest. Etienne et al explain this is an essential part of a community of practice. The use of technology offers the community of practice an opportunity to explore and enquire about the things members really care about.
Communities of practice facilitate learning opportunities where members can learn from each other. At the moment I am using LinkedIn to emerse myself into a community where practitioners have the same interests and are willing to share their expertise as well as a willingness to learn from others.
At first I thought of LinkedIn as only a contact database but now I see it has greater potential. You can learn quite a lot just through joining groups of interest, reading and contributing to the discussion forums…. but does this make it a community of practice? The learning activities are most informal but I have this expectation that participation will provide opportunities to learn something meaningful in fields of interest.
At the moment I am doing my masters by research. I am thinking I might at an appropriate time use LinkedIn to test theories, undertake research and get feedback on my research design. Will this then be considered a community of practice? Or is it only a group?
As the focus of my research will be on technology and learning in VET and the workplace, this could be a good place to start. A new question can be added to my research ‘How can a community of practice that uses technology provide opportunities for like minded people to learn together?’.
Leaders are an important part of a community of practice. If I did use a LinkedIn group, there would be opportunities for both formal and informal leadership roles. It would also offer an opportunity to form a very large group. Blogging, hasn’t offered this too me. Neither has a wiki or twitter. Having said that my focus on blogging, twitter and wikis have not been to set up a community so that could play a major factor in my experiences. Facebook however, does feel much like a community to me but of course it is a different type of community and those in this community have different interests to that of my research. So it seems LinkedIn could be a very useful experiment.
Back to the book I am reading Etienne et al explain that ‘technology has changed how we think about communities, and communities have changed our uses of technology’. This brings me to a new term ‘digital habitats’, but more about that later, in the meantime checkout http://technologyforcommunities.com/tools/. This wiki has been put together by the authors of the book.