Apr 25 2002

Foundations workshop story

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An Online Workshop as a Community of Practice: Evolution of Design and Practice

— D R A F T —


This paper describes an online workshop and its evolution across several years.  Titled “Foundations of Communities of Practice“, it is taught by Etienne Wenger, Bronwyn Stuckey and me.  Since the subject matter concerns a perspective on learning (i.e., a community of practice) that is different from the norm in most classes or workshops, its design has involved a lot of thinking about  the entire process of delivering “instruction.”

Here are some basic tensions between the subject or content of the workshop and the workshop form itself:


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 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

Each of these contrasts (and others developed in the paper) implies specific challenges for presenting the subject of “communities of practice” in an effective and intellectually honest way.  The table is repeated with some notes about ways we have dealt with some of these contradictions at the end of this paper (see “Some Conclusions“).

You may find this account interesting and useful if:

  • You are interested in design as an evolutionary process
  • You are struggling with the differences between “a workshop” and “a community of practice”
  • You are involved in the delivery of instruction on the Web

See the sub-pages below for the different elements of the story.

This page has the following sub pages.

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