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Communities of Practice

February 24th, 2014

Overview

Classified as a constructivist theory, a community of practice is a group of people who interact with each other to share knowledge and learn from each other.  Communities of practice have a domain, community and a practice in order to be successful and useful.  (“Communities of practice,”)  Examples could include a professional teacher’s group that discusses various web 2.0 tools to further education such as Classroom 2.0 (classroom20.com).   According to Penelope Echkert (2006), a community of practice is “is a collection of people who engage on an ongoing basis in some common endeavor.  Communities of practice emerge in response to common interest of position.

Contributors

The founders and major contributors the theory of communities of practice are Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger.  Initially introduced in 1991, Wenger furthered the theory in 1998.

Major Principles

As connectivist theory, CoPs foster learner when members make connections with peers and learn from other’s experience as they are shared.  Communities of practice (CoP) must contain three items in order to be an actual community of practice.  First of all the CoP has to be centered on a specific topic.  This is called the domain.  The domain is specific and commitment to the domain is required from the members.  For example a group of neighbors that live on the same street would not be considered a domain.  Just because they all live on the same street does not qualify.  Now, a group of neighbors interested in and committed to making their street more beautiful with landscaping could fall under the definition of a domain.  By the necessity of the commitment, arises the community.  Community is a specific requirement of a CoP.  The community members are all working and interacting with each other and completing similar activities.  Finally, the CoP requires a practice.  Practice implies professionalism.  Practice means that the members are professionals that work in the same area as the domain.  They must be committed to and practicing.  So the example of neighbors working to beautify their street, unless they are all professional landscapers, does not meet the definition of a CoP.  

Other principles of a CoP include sharing stories, best practices, methodology, and other pertinent information related to the practice so that all members of the CoP can increase skill and perform their practice more efficiently.  The CoP can also be applied to students, especially in a college setting.  Students can become involved in a CoP to help them gain better understanding of their field of study.  A CoP is a community of professional or academic development.  A faculty of teachers who teach English at a public high school that often relate stories and best practices so that all teachers benefit and can improve their practice would meet all definitions of a community of practice.

Application

Closely related to the CoP is the Personal Learning Network (PLN).  PLNs are a form of CoP in which members create and cultivate networks of people and resources such as blogs, wikis, and other web 2.0 tools to foster learning.  While PLNs don’t always involve two-way exchanges, they often do.  PLNs are broader than CoPs in that they are personally created by each individual and contain more than one PoC. PLNs can be used in the classroom to help students develop connections to the outside world so that they can develop skills in their chose field of study.  By joining professional organizations like the NEA for teachers and groups on the web like the teachers in Classroom 2.0, students can create vast PLNs with multiple CoPs.  An instructional approach that can be used is to foster and require students to find information within these PLNs.  Rather that provide knowledge and information to the student, pull the information from the student.  Require them to find and guide them when needed.

References

Communities of practice (Lave and Wenger). (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.learning-theories.com/communities-of-practice-lave-and-wenger.html

Eckert, P. (2006). Communities of practice. Retrieved from http://www.stanford.edu/~eckert/PDF/eckert2006.pdf

 

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