Jun 20 2008
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.
Community of Practice
Workshop or class
|Duration of association||Ongoing||Bounded|
|Procedure for joining||Legitimate peripheral participation||Register, pay tuition, and attend||
|Sign of individual completion or competence||Reputation and sense of identity as competent||Credit for completing the course or curriculum||
|Style of exchange||Sociability around the practice||Getting instruction from an expert||
|Social cohesion||Mutual accountability||Authority of instructor or text||
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.