Groups, and Communities, and Networks…..Oh My!!!

So in starting this blog I will issue a disclaimer – I’m a big Etienne Wenger fan so my views and comments in this post will be colored with that doctrine. In reviewing the materials that we were assigned for these two weeks the themes that continually come through regarding community of practice are the following:

  • Flexibility: boundaries are permeable, participants can contribute and participate in different ways and to varying degrees
  • Shared learning: learning that creates value for the members, opportunities for experts and novices to interact, mentorship that is NOT power driven but distributed
  • Repository for culture/history: knowledge, language, competencies and identity that are preserved by the practitioners to perpetuate and build the practice

Communities need a space and time to create the type of collaboration that is outlined above. Stephen Downes, 2006 does a nice job of identifying some distinctive characteristics between groups and networks that I saw as a “historical”/”old school” versus “new world”/”Web 2.0” observation of how people interact. What was particularly interesting for me was the identification of the tools and artifacts that are utilized to create and maintain collaboration between people.

Lastly, the observations about how people participate within communities of practice (and I would extend this to online groups) are illustrations of Wenger’s Theory of Legitimate Peripheral Practice. Whether you identify with John Seeley Brown’s Four L’s (Linking, Lurking, Learning, and Leading) or Derek Wenmoth’s The Four C’s of participation in Online communities (Consume, Comment, Contribute, Commentator) they both point to the growth of the practitioner (community participant) from a peripheral role of observer/sponge to an expert/mentor role as he/she grows within the community with the help of the community.

Aliza Sherman’s blog on Building Online Community Brick by Virtual Brick are some nice thoughts about online communities. Basically, the idea is that ownership comes from the participants, that leadership is necessary, and again collaboration, sharing, and history/culture are key ingredients to the successful care and feeding of the community. So the adage “if you build it they will come” does not apply with communities of practice.


~ by cdeck77 on August 12, 2008.

2 Responses to “Groups, and Communities, and Networks…..Oh My!!!”

  1. I agree with your conclusion that Downes is talking about something like “old school” and “new school” concepts. I’ve tried to think of different terms from “group” and “network.” This kind of distinction is being drawn by educators. In that conversation the usual distinction is between the institution “school” and Web 2.0. But I think Downes would say that when any school uses Web 2.0 it is still not a “network” because it still includes hierarchy, power, assessment. Do you agree with my prediction about Downes’ views in education? Does anyone know what he actually says about educational institutions in this context?

  2. Hi. Very good blogging for FOC. I’ll be checking back to continue reading and commenting.

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