Career and vocational educators (CTE) need to find ways to foster online communities of practice (CoP) in order to optimize learning and application of knowledge to real workplaces. Not only do students engage more actively in their learning, but they gain from multiple perspectives, and can develop more complex projects with the help of others. Instruction needs to be designed to help students get to know each other, and collaborate. Technological tools can facilitate such interaction, overcoming time and space issues. Particularly as WebWeb 2.0 tools facilitate collaboration, online CoPs can thrive. Nevertheless, equity issues of physical and intellectual access need to be considered when creating such online learning environments.
Basically, a community of practice consists of a group of people with common values and goals. In the business world, a community of practice could include a work unit, mid-level management, or even the entire enterprise. In most cases a community of practice has a social dimension that fosters interdependence, but the chief goal is organizational improvement through individual and group professional development and deployment.
In education, the term “community of learners” is more likely to be encountered. As with a community of practice, a community of learners develops interdependent relationships as they learn from each other. Carney (1999) defines a community of learners as “a place were student learners are made to feel that their prior knowledge, the knowledge that they are acquiring, and the skills that they are learning to acquire future knowledge are all tied together” (p. 53).
In both kinds of communities, the notion of sustainability, or at least ongoing engagement is expected. In a community of practice, it is more likely that a broader spectrum of experience and expertise will be represented, if for no other reason that entry-level employees may be incoming members and long-term employees may serve as mentors. However, just as a curriculum is greater than a course, so too are students in CTE programs likely to include neophytes and veteran learners. In both cases, a social norm exists that fosters and facilitates the sharing and generation of information. Indeed, “knowledge management” is a related activity whereby the individual knowledge of a group or organization is systemically collected, organized, and stored for effective retrieval and use by the whole enterprise.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Course Management System: A Web-based system that supports teaching and learning; it usually includes tools to import and organize content, to communicate, and to manage course delivery.
Situated Learning: Learning that takes place in the same context in which it is applied, or at least simulates that setting
Knowledge Management: The process of systematically gathering organizational wisdom, organizing those ideas, archiving them, and providing for their easy retrieval and dissemination.
Community Of Practice: A group of individuals participating in communal activity, with a shared identity and goal, who collectively contribute to the practices of their communities.
Threaded Discussion: A running commentary of messages between two or more people in a discussion group.
Constructivist Learning: A philosophy of learning founded on the premise that, by reflecting on individual experiences, learners construct their own understanding of the world.
Active Engagement/Active Learning: Learning environments that involve students in doing things, thinking about what they are doing, and applying what they are learning.
Web 2.0: Interactive Internet technology and applications including blogs, wikis, RSS and social bookmarking.
e-Portfolio: A digital collection of evidence collected and organized by the user, which is often used to demonstrate that person’s competency.
Community of Learners: A place were student learners are made to feel that their prior knowledge, the knowledge that they are acquiring, and the skills that they are learning to acquire future knowledge are all tied together.