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Communities of practice online: Reflection through experience and experiment with the Webheads community of language learners and practitioners

Vance Stevens, Arif Altun, Christopher Johnson, Susanne Nyrop

Theoretical underpinnings of communities of practice and their relationship to pedagogy

Week 4: Mon Feb 10 to Sun Feb 16, 2003

Week at a Glance | Discussion Topics | Live Chat Schedule | Bibliography | Follow-up Summary
Week at a glance: Chris's schematic and bibliographic representations

Christopher Johnson has created this interesting interactive illustration of CoP theory with links to mind maps:

  • comparing CoP organization with other organizational types
  • showing overlap between distributed CoPs and other types of virtual communities

Click on the pic or the link above to explore the original.

Christopher also made a recent update of his communties of practice bibliography at "It is annotated, and you can peruse through approx. 50 articles and books on communities of practice, as well as related literature with respect to online communication. You can click through the articles by keyword, which are listed at the top." Also, at the top of the page, there is a link that says "Webheads Reading List" and it goes through the 15 books/articles in the order I think is logical.

Teresa placed Glossary of terms used in the 4 CoPs diagrams by Chris Johnson here.

Week at a Glance | Discussion Topics | Live Chat Schedule | Bibliography | Follow-up Summary
Topics for discussion

Week at a Glance | Discussion Topics | Live Chat Schedule | Bibliography | Follow-up Summary
Live: Your invitation to chat

Venues: Chris has in mind or TI, using his overview page as a background.

Date (2003) Event
Monday, February 10 10:00 - noon GMT - Chris Johnson, Susanne Nyrop, Rif Altun and Vance Stevens met live (with Venny) and planned the session (it was about time!)
18:00 -20:00 GMT - Susanne Nyrop(in TI and Yahoo)
Tuesday, February 11 10:00 - noon GMT - Chris Johnson live
Wednesday, February 12 10:00 - noon GMT - Chris Johnson and Susanne Nyrop live

I have edited and uploaded to our files folder for this week the first part of todays' chatlog with Chris SJ and myself [with MariaJo, Pilar, Venny, Dafne present and participating in varying capacities]. To summarize, Chris SJ and I were curiously inspecting Nigel's latest message about his theatre company. One interesting question we toggled was: are the informal backstage experiences really valued by the organisators in a community (of performance) like this one? Just let me quote Nigel for this phrase as a key to my understanding of a lot of learning and personal development on play here: "as a group, our understanding of Shakespeare in performance is increasing all the time. The problem we had wasn't putting productions on, it was how to ensure continuity from one show to the next, and that we couldn't leave to chance and chaos navigation" .

After our discusion, I took another look at the homepage of this student theatre company where you can get your own idea on what's important - the following statement tell me that this is not a top-down and task-oriented only community: "The Undergroundlings are a company of players - we have no committees or hierarchies, and we do not distinguish between actors in principal or secondary roles, musicians and techies. We all work together on all aspects of the production, and have a lot of fun in the process. Our philosophy calls for short rehearsal periods which stress the meaning of the text. "

I will definitely not get further into this - but read the chatlog if you like. For me, it has been interesting as an example - but also timetaking and intriguing, bringing our focus somewhat off the track, like Dafne just explained.

Thursday, February 13

10:00 - noon GMT - Chris Johnson live (on his birthday??!!)

Sus's commentary: as you know, chats are often changing directions, just like in a face to face situation ­ or even more so, unless a decisive moderator decides to guide the participants. For those who like a little harmless virtual verbal fun, Chris promised to bake a birthday cake, and I plan to open a bottle of bubbly (which I find is a very cute US name for fake champagne ­ one of the first new terms I learned as a newbie in Tapped In. If you happen to be asleep, working hard or otherwise behindered, we¹ll bring a toast to absent Webheads in todays¹ chat at 10-12 GMT

Chat log: Chris SJ and Susanne discuss the CoP aspects a Theatre company

Friday, February 14 9 to 11 GMT - Chris Johnson and Vance Stevens live (and joined by Dafne)
Saturday, February 15 04:00 - 10:00 GMT - Vance's office hours - Venny and Buthaina and Vance experiemented for hours with various voice chat clients
16:00 -17:00 GMT - Webheads at
Sunday, February 16 04:00 - noon GMT - Vance's office hours
noon -14:00 GMT - Webheads at

Week at a Glance | Discussion Topics | Live Chat Schedule | Bibliography | Follow-up Summary

More readings on Communities of Practice and community formation and development online

Vance is very curious to find out what Susanne is talking about here: "I begin to see it as a result of a cultural difference found in the Scadinavian tradition, and coined in the Danish-Norwegian Author Aksel Sandemose, describing the modesty pitfalls in his hometown, called Jante (in his book En flygtning krydser sit spor), Jante's Law. I just googled it and found many references, a good one is here. Some day, I might like to twine some more threads on this topic in w4w

I wish to dig back in the history of learning theories, leading up to the understanding of language-mediated interaction as a socio-cultural activity, computer-mediated or not. From the first part of the nineteenth century Russian psychologist and linguist, Vygotsky there is a direct line leading to todays' understanding of the importance of establishing an everyday learning in the Community of practice, (for example as described in 1991 by the anthropologist Jean Lave and the psychologist Etienne Wenger together in their ground breaking book, Situated learning), often referred to in the development of computer-supported collaborative learning anrd related work, with an exemplary case of the Webheads EFL/ESL online community. The interesting point is : how can we change the traditional , habitus of thinking and acting in a scholastic paradigm, to move from the task-oriented, curriculum-based education, to an inclusive community where boundary members, newcomers, peer learners and experts can get together and develop shared practices, meaningful contexts and trust?

Week at a Glance | Discussion Topics | Live Chat Schedule | Bibliography | Follow-up Summary
Follow-up: Vance starts to cobble together some sense of this for the archives

What follows is purely a working document, placed here for the benefit of those developing this part of the 7 week EVOnline session being planned for January-March 2003. No part of this document may be quoted or referenced until this notice is removed. Thanks, Vance (Ed.)

I've created a document pointing to emails organized according to questions raised, still a work in progress

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Last updated: August 22, 2004