Friday, August 15, 2008

Community of Practice

One of the objectives of the foc08 course is stated as:

  • Define an online community
A few of the first bloggers mentioned "community of practice", a term that is familiar to educators but unfamiliar to myself. I suppose that before this new-fangled way of saying it came to be, people just used the words "service community". A service community was/is one that fills the needs of a greater community. The greater community already exists and the service community is a portion of the community that provides a service to the larger community. So, for instance, there is a need for leadership in the greater community, traditionally, some collection of individuals would form a constitutional society to provide the service of developing leadership. The community was larger than any one of the individuals in that it was self developing and self-perpetuating. The platform was secondary and either unowned or cooperatively owned. (A far cry from what we have gotten ourselves into on the web)

An online community ought to be all of that and more.

The JayCees are an established service community, designed for the purpose of providing leadership to the greater community. This organization has programs that give people training in leadership skills. Another very popular vehicle for developing speaking and organizing skills is Toastmasters International. These are great examples of traditional service organization or what we would call "community of practice" because they exists for the purpose of developing practical skills through training programs. And, because it's a community, the training is ongoing, it's always developing further, to learn more, to challenge the individuals, the community, and the greater community. This attribute of continuous growth set it apart from a classroom course.

One important aspect that we should not overlook about these service organizations is that complete control of the administration of the community is passed on to each new generation of members through a constitutional form. This allows the former administrators to grow the organization. This is not happening in web communities. Ownership of the platform has been elevated above the integrity of the community itself and is probably stifling growth. The traditionally organized service community may have a membership of 100's of thousands or millions of members spanning a worldwide geographical area, while a large message board community may only number in the few hundreds or thousands. What's the problem? More importantly, what's the solution? That's what sparks my interest.

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The ordinal discussion arts lead us into coherent group building and groups become the building blocks of communities.

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