You probably already know that Skype is a great tool – especially for community leaders. If you are a technology steward, it’s not only a great tool but it’s also a handy example for illustrating some of the use and integration issues that we have to deal with and be able to talk about.
This issue of Learning Communities: International Journal of Learning in Social Contexts focuses on the use of digital portfolios, or e-Portfolios to support learning. The series of seven articles evolved from presentations given at the second Australian e-Portfolio Symposium, held in Brisbane in early February 2009. Queensland University of Technology.
From 2 of the leading researchers and writers on Communities of Practice comes this new study that studies the health and impact of online communities.
I absolutely can’t wait to get my hands on this research! Until then, here are a few blurbs from their article:
Though in-house networks of experts—or “communities of practice”—were once entirely unofficial, today they are increasingly integrated into companies’ formal management structures.
Today they’re an actively managed part of the organization, with specific goals, explicit accountability, and clear executive oversight. To get experts to dedicate time to them, companies have to make sure that communities contribute meaningfully to the organization and operate efficiently.
We’ve observed this shift in our consulting work and in our research.
To examine the health and impact of communities, we did a quantitative study of 52 communities in 10 industries, and a qualitative assessment of more than 140 communities in a dozen organizations, consisting of interviews with support staff, leaders, community members, and senior management.
Communities of practice for local government is a website that supports collaboration across local government and the public sector in the United Kingdom.
From the About section of the site:
This is a freely accessible resource that enables like-minded people to form online communities of practice, which are supported by collaboration tools that encourage knowledge sharing and learning from each others experiences.
Connect to Collaborate to Innovate
This is a community platform supporting professional social networks across local government and the public sector. It provides a secure environment for knowledge development and sharing through online communities of practice.
Dr. Jacques Bughin of McKinsey & Company throws a question to how are organizations stimulating an influx of content. My own response to this question is the following.
One of the keys to pulling content from readers and turning them into participants is by asking relevant questions. For example, this particular blog post ends with a call for opinions. This is just one strategy used for stimulating contributions.
Another stimulator that I have come to find in my research on communities of practice (focus of doctoral research) is that one of the ways to increase participation in to offer up a problem that requires resolution to a community of experts and let them “hash it out” so to speak. It is amazing to see lively discussion being captured in a thread and see new perspectives emerge through discussion.
In learning environments, creating activities in discussion forums such as case study analysis, is a great way to pull in information.
Since Conversation Theory (see Gordon Pask) is core interest of mine, I have been researching exactly this question for a few years. At the moment, I am administering a booming prototype for a community of practice in the Aviation Industry.
The key is letting the participant know that their contribution is of value and has the potential to advance thought and/or practice.
Early analyses of user participation pointed to the importance of building large communities, creating effective incentives for participation and implementing more flexible forms of organization. Looking back a few years later, the good news is that active participation continues to spread. The bad news is that harnessing participation is more difficult than we thought. Stimulating a continuous flow of high-quality contributions should be the focus of companies that want to take advantage of user participation.
A few years have passed since those observations. Looking back, what can we infer from them?
Though I haven’t had the opportunity to read the research study, based on these reported findings, I can formulate an argument for research into practice type learning activities and communities of practice. The reality is that practionners in all fields are having a hard time staying abreast of new research developments and professional development and training needs to start looking at this issue in a new light.
Researchers at the University of Gothenburg and the University of Borås in Sweden have looked at how professionals in different occupational groups seek and use information and keep updated after finishing their education. The results show that teachers seek information they can use in their own teaching and that librarians focus on helping library users find information, while nurses just don’t have the time.
The study report goes on to explain how keeping up with professional development is difficult to live up to:
While the interviewed nurses were in fact told that they should keep up with current research as professionals, they said that this is easier said than done. Nursing education is about producing texts while the nursing profession is about attending to patients. The time it takes to keep updated on nursing science research is simply not available, making such practice uncommon.
Social Media has changes many things, including the way experts envisage online communities of practice. The following is Cormac Heron’s account of leading author and expert Richard McDermott’s reflections on how Communities of Practice have evolved and where they are headed.
Richard McDermott was there to give a bit of his background in personal and professional experiences of the last 20 years. 10 years ago they thought that these were the main characteristics of online communities:
Independent of an organisation
Some face-to-face occurrences
But on revisiting them consequently the following were thought to be more relevant:
Goals were set out
Reporting to the highest level
Integrated into organisation
Part of the actual job description
According to Heron, Richard then ended his keynote by hitting them all with this stonker:
How will the emergence of new social media, current organisational dynamics and social change shape the role and impact of communities over the next 10 years.