Communities of Practice & Related Boundaries: Part 2 of 4

This post sets the tone of current practice within academics for communities of practice. These empirical studies map back to the theories discussed in Part 1 and provides experiential relevance necessary to apply them in the real world. Parts 3 and 4 will discuss  the theory and subsequently empirical studies in different disciplines of boundaries and boundary objects. These posts are draft writing snippets of a systems thesis for adult education I am developing in my doctoral work.

If you wish to see a more detailed review of one of the articles referenced, please do not hesitate to contact me. I strongly encourage retrieving the Seddon article for motivational models within communities of practice.

Communities of Practice: Empirical Studies & Practical Applications

Kirschner & Lai (2007) note that while communities of practice are an important element for academia, “very few empirical studies have been undertaken to document how communities of practice work and how they can be sustained in an educational environment” (p. 127). That statement is supported by the difficulty of finding research for communities of practice within academia specifically, and those discovered are represented through studies presented below.

A key outcome to the collaboration effort within communities of practice is the construction of new knowledge relevant to the individuals, which is a result of the worldview paradigm and learning theory of constructivism (Creswell, 2009). While there is a great deal of theoretical research concerning communities of practice available, there are very few practical applications of them for a sustainable period of time within education (Kirschner & Lai, 2007); however, there are a few such examples of empirical studies for applying communities of practice within education.

  • Hlapanis & Dimitracopoulou (2007) provides guidelines to create and maintain a community of practice through the process of keeping participants aware of their contributions and efforts. This perpetuated the participants to experience constant learning.  A qualitative measurement of established expectations was done, as well as a qualitative analysis of e-moderation’s impact on the community’s communication. These results were triangulated through semi-structured interviews of participants within the community. Community evolution was determined through six specific phases that started with strong preparation, curved upward into a maturation and sustenance from the community, down into decomposition. The conclusion of this curve is that intentional communities of practice are not arbitrary; rather, they are a result of deliberate action of the community members. Also, the e-moderators distributed activity reports each week, allowing the members to increase awareness of their participation and have an improved critical learning experience as a result of this self-regulation.
  • Kelly, et. al. (2007) reiterates the value of awareness for participants by presenting a case study that demonstrates a positive transformation over time. The reason that it was positive was credited to the participant’s awareness of their own identity and position within the community, impacting how they engaged with improved quality and critical thinking. While the authors have a departure from traditional theory as to what communities of practice represent, they demonstrate a need for higher awareness of one’s identity within the field of practice and as such, the positional transformational based on the written engagement of the community. Any systemic implementation of communities of practice needs to understand the nuances of effectively leading a community through this awareness and continual transformation.
  • Moore & Boyoung (2007) present a value insight in their case study of educators using communities of practice for career support. While it was discovered that the educators were technologically capable, their mindset was such that the Internet was merely a repository of ideas, lesson plans, and supplemental material for the students. The natural social interaction that the current general has embraced within the Internet is not an option that older generations naturally consider. Again, awareness plays a key role for communities of practice, but in this study, it is clear that it is peripheries that need to broadcast more options and potential to new community users.
  • Seddon, et. al. (2008) contributed an excellent framework for using communities of practice for educational paradigms. The study of the community that experienced such a long and sustained run is invaluable for future sustainable communities. An important observation in this study was that the participants became engaged beyond the common interest that initially drew them. That engagement was due to the moderator recommending to the participants to reflect on their motivations and how their community experienced such a sustained effort. They studied different models of motivation that current existed, and even adjusted them to motivational model specifically relevant to communities of practice. Seddon, et. al. states that the “dynamic motivation models might help explain sustained teacher participation in the collaboration and the possibility that a long-term motivational ‘flow’ occurred” (p. 29). That model correlated with the other major empirical studies that noted a strong identity for individuals must be present and impacted how they collaborate. Additionally, having mastery goals that were achievable in increments increased their participatory motivation.

The trends that are developing from these empirical studies match the theoretical underpinnings for communities of practice, which consist strong of awareness for personal identity and position within the community. The result of community participants becoming aware of their own collaboration and contributions was consistent improvement of transformation learning and experience. The further awareness of the motivational model and communication framework led to a sustained community for six years in Seddon’s study, which is an incredible testimony for any community focused on a specific project with many layers of mastery goals available, such as this study presented. It is important that these inductive studies are not neglected, and that valid research is further developed deductively for communities of practice in general that can be utilized for purposes of continued learning transformation in any industry.

Hlapanis, G., and Dimitracopoulou, A. (2007). The school-teacher’s learning community: Matters of communication analysis. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 16(2), 133-151.

Kelly, P., Gale, K., Wheeler, S., and Tucker, V. (2007). Taking a stance: Promoting deliberate action through online postgraduate professional development. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 16(2), 153-176.

Kirschner, P., and Kwok-Wing, L. (2007). Online communities of practice in education. Technology, Pedagogy, and Education, 16(2), 127-131.

Seddon, K., Skinner, N., Postlethwaite, K. (2008). Creating a model to examine motivation for sustained engagement in online communities. Technology, Pedagogy, and Education, 13, 17-34.

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About Marian

My passion is centered around ensuring effective learning experiences that improve people's lives. Developing a learning mindset is my ultimate goal whether working with academic programs or corporate training; formal or informal learning practices. It is my belief that our potential for agility is limited only by our capacity for learning.

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