Academic journal article International Journal of Instructional Media

Bridging between Practice Fields and Real Communities through Instructional Technologies

Academic journal article International Journal of Instructional Media

Bridging between Practice Fields and Real Communities through Instructional Technologies

Article excerpt


As educators interested in issues related to learning, we have been progressively moving from cognitive theories that predominately emphasize individual and isolated minds to that of the social nature of cognition (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989). Building upon the situated perspective and extending the notion of context to a community of practice is another major direction taken by educationist in recent times (Wenger, 1998). The perspective of communities as a situated context dates back to the works of Vygotsky (1978, 1981) who posited that cognition begins at the social inter-mental level and through the process of internalization meanings become translated or assimilated into the individual level. Within this social to individual transition, learners can be scaffolded to higher potentials through the aid of other more capable agents. Such a view supports the apprenticeship and coaching methods recently advocated. For these reasons, the concepts within communities of practices (CoPs) have been gaining currency. Within CoPs, learners begin as Legitimate Peripheral Participants (novices) and their identities become gradually transformed into legitimate central participants.

Hence, many attempts have also been made by educators to bring the concept of CoPs into the classroom, for example, Fostering a Community of Learners (Brown and Campione, 1996) and knowledge building communities (Scardamalia and Bereiter, 1994). Based on these views, practice is not independent of learning and meanings are constructed in the context of practices. For this reason, Senge (1994) proposed the concept of practice fields where students can get to practice the kinds of problems they will encounter outside the school. This move to 'bring the community into the classroom' is sparked with renewed interest because increasingly researchers and educators are realizing that schools are gradually building a culture of their own (also see Barab & Duffy, 2000).

Resnick (1987) contrasts school learning with real world learning, and pointed out four major differences: a predominant individual learning in schools rather than collaborative learning in real world; schools emphasize on mental thinking rather than manipulation of tools; schools engage students in manipulation of symbols rather than contextualized reasoning; schools aim to teach general skills compared to context and situation specific competencies outside. Such a 'school culture' through which belief systems are developed among students are quite unlike the dispositions and beliefs held by practitioners in communities of practices. Brown, Collins, and Duguid (1989) synthesized the differences between students and practitioners such as students work with well-defined problems whereas practitioners are engaged with ill-defined issues. School culture is entrenched with notions such as heuristics when solving word problems which are radically tangent from the way mathematicians solve problems. The way schools use dictionaries, of math formulae, or historical analysis are very different from the way practitioners use them ... In essence, over time, the practice and culture of schooling has become increasingly different from real communities of practices and professionals. Thus, the cultural context of schools too often emphasize learning and grades, not participation and use (Barab & Duffy, 2000) resulting in the increase of inert knowledge.


When we view concepts not as abstract knowledge to be memorized but as tools to solve problems, we begin to approach learning more from a practitioners' perspective. Similarly, designing a learning environment begins with identifying the need of what is to be learned--according to real-world needs. Such a view is similar to cognitive apprenticeship's perspective of setting the global picture first, that is, showing the learners the end goal--a tangible goal. …

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