Magazine article Talent Development

Etienne Wenger

Magazine article Talent Development

Etienne Wenger

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Etienne Wenger is a pioneer, thought leader, and consultant in the social learning theory of communities of practice. Early in his career, Wenger helped shape the field of artificial intelligence as it applied to education. He holds a doctorate in Information and Computer Science from the University of California at Irvine and an honorary doctorate from the University of Brighton. His books include Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation; Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity; Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge; and Digital Habitats: Stewarding Technology for Communities.

Q | YOU ARE ORIGINALLY FROM SWITZERLAND. WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO THE UNITED STATES?

I came to the United States in 1982 to pursue a master's degree and then a PhD at the University of California at Irvine. In California, you qualify as a native if you've been there that long.

Q | YOU WERE A FRENCH TEACHER EARLY IN YOUR CAREER. WHAT PROMPTED I YOU TO MAKE THE MOVE TO INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND COMPUTERS?

I taught French as a second language in Hong Kong. I was also a French teacher for two years at an elementary school in Denver, but the kids were not interested in learning French. I couldn't blame them. If you live in Colorado and you learn a language, it should be Spanish. When the school closed down, I decided to go back to Switzerland and study something that would be relevant to teach kids. I decided to go into computer science. I wouldn't have to argue why that was important.

As I was studying, I discovered that many people were exploring the use of computers in teaching. The reason I went to Irvine for my PhD was because they had a big department focused on the use of computers in education.

Q | HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE CONCEPT OF COMMUNITIES I OF PRACTICE?

A good section of my very first book on artificial intelligence in education covered the work of John Seely Brown. After reading the manuscript, he invited me to join the new institute he was starting in Palo Alto, California--the Institute for Research on Learning (IRL). In 1983, the U.S. Department of Education came out with a report, "A Nation at Risk," which lamented the state of education in the country. In response, the idea of the institute was to bring together people from different disciplines--artificial intelligence as well as psychology, linguistics, anthropology, and education--to completely rethink the basic assumptions about learning underlying education. …

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