Jun 20 2008

Community Directory

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An Online Workshop as a Community of Practice: The Community Directory or Workshop Roster

The first thing about a community of practice is that it is a community, made up of people who are connected in many subtle ways. Participants in our workshop are invited to participate in an experience that is like a community of practice. From the beginning, they have been asked to complete a personal information form that Caucus provides, including an email address, home page, a photo, and biographical information. This information was available by clicking on a person’s name (shown next to a posting they had written) or from a list that is produced when you click on “people” in a tool bar.

Ever since the third workshop, a table has also been provided that gathers additional information and presents it in a form that suggests the idea of “group.” The table includes name and contact information (email address, company, title, etc.). Since participants in these workshops are located all over the world, the community directory always includes an individual’s time zone. Because small projects and organized discussions were a fundamental part of the workshop process, the community directory has also listed commitments to join or lead a specific project or conversation. Although the community directory turned out to be very useful, creating and maintaining it by hand turned out to be a real burden. memberDirectory
Fig 4: dynamically created community directory

The migration to Web Crossing provided the possibility of a community directory that was generated automatically. Figure 4 shows a small section of the table, which includes four columns.  Each row gives:

  1. Clickable name and photo that take you to an information page about the individual (that’s similar to what Caucus provides, but also includes links to the last five postings by an individual).  A recent addition has been a link to the WebCrossing Instant Messenger facility.
  2. Email address, affiliation and a link to the individual’s “front porch.”
  3. Each individual’s local time and length of “time away” (i.e., how long it had been since they last had been on the workshop site).
  4. Commitments made regarding community projects (such as to lead a project or facilitate a discussion)

One unexpected use of the community directory was as a guide to help make our telephone meetings more organized and more satisfying. The roster was an easy way to “take attendance,” and we found that it was easy to use the order in which people are listed in the community directory as the order of speaking on the teleconference.

As a facilitator, I have found that I divide my time between engaging in specific conversations and projects and looking after stragglers who have not yet logged on or have been absent for an unexpectedly long time.  Our community directory is a quick way to scan through the community as a whole.

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