Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

The Dynamics of Online Communities in the Activity Theory Framework

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

The Dynamics of Online Communities in the Activity Theory Framework

Article excerpt

Introduction

The educational sector offers a great amount of tacit knowledge but needs incentives to transform this knowledge into explicit terms. That is, although teachers are generally full of theoretical information after graduation, in time, they gain expertise. However, these teachers need an incentive to share their expertise. Currently, communities of practice are considered potential arenas that may impel teachers to share their experiences with others. Regarding this issue, Schaler and Fusco (2003) state, "Teachers' professional development is more than a series of training workshops, instates, meetings, and in service days. It is a process of learning how to put knowledge into practice through engagement in practice within a community of practitioners" (p. 205). A community of practice provides both tacit and explicit knowledge communication among teachers in a community by producing useful documentation, tools, and procedures to be shared with one another. Therefore, establishing communities of practice has become an important focus within teachers' professional development projects, providing lifelong learning opportunities (Wenger, 1998).

This study is based on knowledge types from knowledge management literature, considering communities of practice theory as one enabler of knowledge management. Therefore, in this section, these issues will be outlined briefly in terms of teacher education.

Knowledge management

Knowledge management generally involves generating ideas, disseminating information, and promoting knowledge sharing among workers in an organization (Garud, 1997). The main discussion topic in this field is the meaning of information and knowledge. Information is unprocessed content that needs to be cultivated by human beings into knowledge. Nonaka (1994) defines knowledge as "justified true belief." That is, knowledge is an interpreted form of information. Teacher educators are mainly interested in whether knowledge has been gained or not. Therefore, it is important to understand the process of knowledge creation. There are two types of human knowledge: explicit (codified knowledge) and tacit (non codified). Polanyi differentiates between these knowledge types by explaining, "We can know more than we can tell" (Polanyi, 1966, as cited in Nonaka, 1994, p.16). Tacit knowledge lacks shape and is difficult to transmit to other people, while explicit knowledge is simple book information. These two dimensions of knowledge creation play an important role in the interaction of school teachers. By its nature, tacit knowledge is not always transformed into explicit knowledge. However, owing to incentives, sometimes tacit knowledge becomes explicit.

Communities of practice

The term "Communities of Practice" was first coined by Lave and Wenger (1991) in their discussion of the social nature of learning. Their basic argument is that communities of practice are everywhere and that people are generally involved in a number of them--whether at work, school, or home, or in civic or leisure interests. In some groups, people are core members; in others, on the outskirts (Wenger, 1998). Wenger, McDermott, and Snyder (2002) describe communities of practice 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 in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis" (p. 4). Along with developing information and communication technologies, instructional technologists have begun addressing the idea of using these technologies in the theory of communities of practice for teachers' professional development.

Problems in the area of teacher education and technology based learning environments

Although today's university instructors are becoming more technology literate and tend to use technology as a secondary support, many do not know how to integrate it fully into their courses. …

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