From the Classroom Learning Community to a Web-Enabled Community of Practice

By Greer, James M. | Distance Learning, May 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

From the Classroom Learning Community to a Web-Enabled Community of Practice


Greer, James M., Distance Learning


Under the guidance and direction of an involved facilitator, a classroom learning community is able to transform into a viable community of prac- tice empowered by the intrinsic social net- working capabilities of Web-enabled applications. This evolutionary step is made possible by an engaged mentor or group-nominated peer who has a continu- ing concern and interest about the direc- tion of a particular practice or profession. Within both traditional and distance education classrooms Web-enabled applications and technologies have greatly assisted in the facilitation of these communities. Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2003) stated, "This new transactional era of distance education has been largely shaped by the ability of computer mediated communication (CMC) to create a community of learners at a distance" (p. 114). To clarify this progression it is important to define a community of learning, define a community of practice, discuss the sources of a community of practice, fist Web-enabled applications that may be used in communities of practice, recognize the characteristics of a community of practice, and discuss the importance of facilitation.

DEFINITIONS

One definition of a learning community proposed by the organization Tele Apprentissage Communautaire au Transformatit (1998) notes that it is "a group of students and at least one educator who, for a while and motivated by common vision and will, are engaged in the pursuit of acquiring knowledge, abilities and attitudes" (para. 1). This community of learning may exist in both traditional and distance venues with interaction varying from almost nil to very involved, depending upon the design and structure of the course. In describing a well designed online community of learning Tu (2004) noted, "Teammates communicating with each other, learning together, searching for resources, supporting each other, conducting team projects online, and solving reallife problems have become important activities in the learning process" (p. 4).

Communities of practice are defined by Wenger (2002) as "groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise by interacting on an ongoing basis" (p. 225). For example, the community of practice may be able to provide peer techniques, tactics, procedures, or solutions for a given problem. Tu (2004) found that, "Communities of practice (CoPs) are groups of people who share similar goals, interests, and practices and, in doing so, employ common practices, work with the same tools, and express themselves in a common language" (p. 17).

A classroom community of learning appears to have a single-minded goal which is the search or quest for knowledge. A community of practice may be viewed as sharing similar goals, but those goals may differ between members, and those goals may be achieved outside the context of a traditional or virtual classroom environment.

SOURCE OF A COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE

A community of practice may have its origin in the traditional or virtual classroom. In the classroom environment students socially interact with each other within a community of learning for a substantial period of time over the course of a semester or even longer. Abels (2005) noted, "The classroom, in a sense, is the workplace for many of the students, and as Bennis and Slater (1969) point out, the workplace becomes a temporary society" (p. 145). After graduation, this workplace ethic and mindset is transported into the actual working environment. The close relationship between current activity theory and a community of practice is noted by Polin (2004).

Building on seminal work by the Russian psychologist Vygotsky (1978), current activity theory is one model that describes learning as the consequence of interaction with people, objects, and culture, in goal-oriented, organized, collective effort (Engestrom, 1999). The "community of practice" concept is a closely related model that describes learning as a consequence of organized, goaldirected, social activity (Lave & Wenger, 1991). …

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