Jun 20 2008

Some Conclusions

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An Online Workshop as a Community of Practice: Some Conclusions

As communities of practice provide a social mechanism to situate conversations, individual learning, and collective efforts, they also provide special challenges for software developers. Workshops play an important role in the life of communities and our attempt to develop a workshop that incorporates some of the powerful features of a community of practice suggests how to push the inherent limitations of a workshop in creative ways.

Contrast

Community of Practice

Workshop or class

Experimental resolution
Duration of association Ongoing Bounded
  • Encourage alumni to participate
  • Connect participants to the ongoing com-prac discussion and to CPsquare.org
  • Make introductions across groups
  • Hold follow-up events
Procedure for joining Legitimate peripheral participation Register, pay tuition, and attend
  • Leverage existing social connections by urging work-groups to participate together
  • Provide spaces ranging from private to communal
  • Open website early and leave it open late
  • Use the registration process to develop social capital
Sign of individual completion or competence Reputation and sense of identity as  competent Credit for completing the course or curriculum
  • Encourage work on real-life cases in practice lab
  • Acknowledge previous personal connections and invite ongoing engagement
Style of exchange Sociability around the practice Getting instruction from an expert
  • Design the workshop space to support multiple modes of interaction
  • Run word games that build social capital
  • Encourage small group conversations
  • Encourage participant initiatives & projects
Social cohesion Mutual accountability Authority of instructor or text
  • Show each individual’s “time away” from the workshop
  • Participants expected to explore leadership roles
  • Encourage participants to contribute innovations in both form and workshop content

Some challenges to be dealt with in the future include:

  • This workshop is an “anti-workshop” in the sense that our emphasis is on incorporating the strengths of a community of practice within the form of a workshop.  This may suggest ways of designing workshops that support the ongoing learning of new or existing communities of practice.
  • Just as communities of practice develop their own jargon, ways of negotiating agendas, and ways of representing their insights, we should expect them to appropriate a collection of software tools that is unique and may not make sense to an outsider.  How a workshop actually operates is partly the result of prior design, partly the result of “practice” and partly the result of all the accidents associated with who participates, how their day went, whether the technology cooperated, etc.
  • The idea of “requirements gathering” to determine the needs of a community of practice is a fairly problematic idea, given the subtle boundaries between a technology platform and a community’s “content”. Techniques of system design that made sense when computer systems merely automated clerical work will not really work very well here.
  • We have not really begun to think about costs. Obviously a workshop presented on the Internet has some inherent economies.  At the same time, until we more fully understand the subtleties of design and delivery, focusing on cost reduction seems premature.
  • The unique backgrounds and identities that people bring to collaborative efforts such as our workshop are hugely important. They can also make assumptions about the meaning of design elements completely invalid.
  • The configurability of platforms and the unique design of web spaces are extremely important. To paraphrase Etienne Wenger: no community can completely design a work space for itself, and no community can completely design a work space for another community. This has significant implications for the design and selection of software intended to support communities of practice.

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