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Archive for March 16th, 2012

community of practice

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March has snuck up behind me rather relentlessly: it’s hard to believe the FCP is coming to its conclusion. Like many of my colleagues I am filling in the odd gap in my work. But I’m still reflecting and reading. Once my portfolio is reviewed I hope to get my BREB application in so I can start collecting data for my study.

In my “day” job in CTLT I work extensively with practitioners of the technical, instructional design, and pedagogical aspects of the teaching and learning enterprise at our research-intensive institution. One of the terms bandied about–uncritically, I suspected–is “community of practice”  (Lave and Wenger, 2006, p. 29. Turns out I was, to a significant extent right. And wrong.

Upon reflection I think community of practice (CoP) has gained a great deal of currency because of its face validity. On an operational level, what Lave and Wenger describe as ” the point that learners inevitably participate in communities of practitioners,” (p. 29) is exactly that: a group of people with a common practice (informal or formal) with concomitant norms and practices. What I find fascinating is that their work focuses not on CoPs: their conceptual piece emphasizes the role of legitimate peripheral participation of those new (perhaps even marginal) to a CoP.

This is significant with respect to the development and delivery of programs around the practice of teaching, research, technology selection/application/deployment or educational development. In other words, across this university the notion of CoP has been embraced: the matter of legitimate peripheral participation is largely absent.  In terms of what was meant by legitimate peripheral participation, Lave and Wenger wrote:

“a process we call legitimate peripheral participation. By this we mean…the point that learners inevitably participate in communities of practitioners and that the mastery of knowledge and skill requires newcomers to move towards full participation in the sociocultural practices of a community. (LPP) provides a way to speak about the relations between newcomers and old-timers, and about activities, identifies, artifacts, and communities of knowledge and practice. It concerns the process by which newcomers become part of a community of practice.” (p. 29)

 One of the challenges we face in CTLT around communities of practice–which are shared by folks positioned in similar units in similar institutions with whom I’ve liaised–is a persistent pattern of LPP and an absence of a core group of participants in CoPs we coordinate. Except for our own staff and students.

Accordingly, Lave and Wenger “have chosen to call that to which peripheral participation leads, full participation. Full participation is intended to do justice to the diversity of relations involved in varying forms of community membership.” (pp. 36-37). If our CoPs lack full participation it makes sense our peripheral participants will move on, rather than linger and move closer to the centre of things.

Similarly, if “legitimate peripheral participation refers both to the development of knowledgeably skilled identities in practice and to the reproduction and transformation of communities of practice.” (p. 55) to what extent can we support the development of these “skilled identities” with few (or any) such community members present, besides our (awesome) CTLT staff? This is a critical question, particularly with respect to the integration of faculty members (instructors and members of the professoriate) in our program that are designed as peer-based CoPs?

Lave and Wenger have given me a lot to think about…and no concrete answers. Though, to be fair, they focus on those marginal to a CoP: their assumption might be that many CoPs have an abundance (or plethora?) of full members.

Written by John P Egan

March 16th, 2012 at 3:18 pm

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