Understanding the Nature of Academia and Doctoral Programs

Understanding the Nature of Academia and Doctoral Programs

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2656-9.ch001
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This chapter lays the foundation for the book by describing two parts of the proposed framework for the examination of doctoral programs in education. Communities of practice is defined for the purposes of this framework and examples are given to help the reader further understand the underlying concepts. The history of graduate programs is set forth as another fundamental tool for understanding doctoral programs. This leads into Chapter 2, which focuses on that history.
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Communities Of Practice As The Theoretical Framework

The theoretical framework for this book is called Communities of Practice (Wenger-Trayner, O’Creevy, Hutchinson, Kubiak, & Wenger-Trayner, 2014; Wenger, 1998). I could claim to have carefully chosen this framework for the book, but that would be misleading. I have understood the realms of K-12 teaching, academia, and almost every other aspect of work, religion, and life through this theoretical framework since the day I was introduced to it. It was among the hundreds of readings I was assigned as a doctoral student at Missouri. It nearly instantaneously changed how I think and operate in groups, including academia. It is a very practical way to see the world.

My oversimplified version of a Community of Practice is this:

  • When two or more people interact regularly, a community exists.

  • When that community operates for any length of time there are several things that develop which aid in the interaction within the community:

    • o

      Patterns of behavior form norms

    • o

      Boundaries form determining who is in the community and who is not

    • o

      Levels of expertise arise as some are better at specific tasks than others

    • o

      Insider language forms as shortcuts for communication. Outsiders to this community may or may not understand the meaning even if the words used are common

    • o

      Reifications also arise. These are physical representations of the practices, language, and norms of the community

    • o

      Entry into and membership in a community of practice involves social learning in context.

    • o

      Once established, expert guide novices into the ways of the community

  • Any person can be member of multiple communities of practice

What does all that mean? Using myself as an example, I am a member of many communities. Here are just a few: Woodlawn Christian Church, Carson-Newman University, the Education Department at C-N, committees, the Knoxville Track club, …

At Woodlawn Christian Church, some of the typical practices of the members include, attending the same Sunday School class every week, attending church services, bringing our middle school and high school children to youth group activities on Wednesday night. The list could go on for pages. We speak in insider language best understood by those of the Christian faith, but we also use very specific norms of interpreting the Bible according to the philosophy set forth in the Stone-Campbell movement. Those in the very specific group calling themselves the “Christian Church” know exactly what I mean; everyone else reading this is left wondering. I am a full participant in this community as I know when to stand, when to bow, when to sing, and when to be silent. I know lots of other members and engage in supportive relationships and discussions with them.

As member of the Knoxville Track Club (KTC), we are encouraged to “race three and volunteer for one.” To the outsider, this may seem strange, but any member of a club that organizes races is well aware that it takes many volunteers at every race to make it safe, clean, and fun. We are always begging for race volunteers. The track club offers an excellent opportunity to explain another feature of communities of practice: levels of expertise and participation. When I first joined the club, I did so to get a discount on the races. This is an excellent hook. At that point, I had become a peripheral participant in the Knoxville running community.

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