How to Use Skype as a Community Platform

This is absolutely a fantastic tutorial on Skype which goes beyond functionality and looks at applicability by Community of Practice expert  John David Smith.

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.

Smith's provisional placing of Skype tools on the digital landscape

 

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Learning Communities: e‐Portfolio Edition

Mostly focussed on new graduates, the Learning Communities: International Journal of Learning in Social Contexts: Issue 2: e-Portfolio Edition has some great applications for professional communities of practice, collective expertise and talent management.

From the Editorial:

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.

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McDermott and Archibald Publish a New Study on Health and Impact of Communities of Practice

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.

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The UK Offers a Free Communities of Practice Platform for Local Governement Collaboration and Innovation

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.

What will I find?

Networking across local government

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How Are You Stimulating the Flow of High-Quality Contributions?

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.

In a qualitative analysis that I did of 5 bloggers in the field of training and development, one of the things that I ascertained was that when bloggers asked questions to their readers, this stimulated discussion.

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?

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The Challenge of Keeping Up with Research when Immersed in Practice

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.

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How Social Media, Organizational Dynamics and Social Change will Shape Communities of Practice over The Next 10 Years

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:

  • Informal
  • Voluntary
  • Independent of an organisation
  • Some face-to-face occurrences
  • Passionate Leader
  • Supported
  • Light-handed management

But on revisiting them consequently the following were thought to be more relevant:

  • Goals were set out
  • Governance
  • Reporting to the highest level
  • Integrated into organisation
  • Passionate Leadership
  • 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.

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Organizational Learning Strategy and eLearning

Situating the Current Popular eLearning Offering

When one decides to venture into the world of eLearning, he or she will quickly come across the following terms:

  • Learning object: a pre-defined parcel of learning that elaborates on a subject or a notion. It is usually developed with rich multimedia.
  • Learning Content Management System (LCMS): a system that enables the organization and sequencing of learning objects to follow a preset learning path.
  • Learning Management Systems (LMS): a system that manages individual learning paths and tracks the learner’s participation and results. It usually interacts with an LCMS and many systems today integrate both.

These technologies are usually worked into a training oriented design where information is essentially pushed to the learner. A certain degree of computer programmed interactivity is planned with the objective of keeping the learner engaged. However, the overwhelming majority of learning objects, at best, transfer a small amount of procedural knowledge—how to do something—and are often limited to declarative knowledge—what is something.

This approach, if properly developed, can be useful when a content push is required such as in the case of introducing new information, demonstrating a step-by-step procedure or other similar processes, etc. But it doesn’t even begin to address the need to develop situational, critical and creative thinking skills at an individual level. This approach cannot transfer contextual knowledge, causal knowledge or foster the development or transferable skills. In essence, it is an incomplete solution and we must push the eLearning offering further.

Looking At a Larger Picture

Organizational development experts began to really expand on the concept of a Learning Organisation in the early 1990s. Peter Senge, a leading expert defines learning organizations as “organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.” (Senge 1990: 3)

The idea that was brought forward by many experts in this field was one of transformation through systems thinking primarily at three levels:

  1. Aligning Objectives: Building a shared vision by linking individual performance and objectives with organizational performance objectives.
  2. Empowering Individuals: Enabling individuals within an organisation to develop personal mastery and reach their goals by providing them with mental models and continuous learning opportunities as well as encouraging creative and critical thinking.
  3. Cultivating Communities: Promoting team learning, cultivating inquiry and dialogue, addressing differences and tensions and using them to stimulate innovation.

Now fifteen years later, the American Management Association reported in their 2005 Global Study of Leadership that “fostering creativity and innovation” was the fifth most highly ranked leadership competency today. They insisted that the “the leader must foster creativity and innovation, both by providing the opportunity to tackle big business issues and by creating a culture where risk-taking and decentralized decision-making are encouraged and rewarded. All too often, executives preach risk-taking and the encouragement of change, but practice control and adherence to established policies and practices.” (AMA 2005: 61)

That said, in order to entrust employees with the mandate of being change agents, the manager needs evidence that employees have the requisite skills and competencies. The plan to develop these skills and competency needs to be embedded in the organization’s learning strategy.

Dynamic eLearning Environments for the Learning Organization

eLearning expert Stephen Downes explains that today’s Web user expects more than a content push. With the advent of social networks, online communities, blogs, wikis, podcasts and other types of conversational Web usage, online users are creating connections in a complex self-directed learning network. Many Virtual  Learning Environment Systems such as Moodle, in recognizing that a series of sequenced learning objects will not suffice, are strategically integrating these functionalities within their systems with the intention of fostering a socio-constructivist learning environment.

Downes, as well as many experts in the field, insist that eLearning must look at these current networking and information sharing practices and embed them into our eLearning strategies. “Learning is characterized not only by greater autonomy for the learner, but also a greater emphasis on active learning, with creation, communication and participation playing key roles, and on changing roles for the teacher, indeed, even a collapse of the distinction between teacher and student altogether.” (Downes 2005)

By developing learning strategies that incorporate these social networking concepts, the potential for designing and developing learner-centered environments that foster reflective, creative and critical thinking is limitless.

Virtual Communities of Practice: Enabling Peer-based Distance Learning

I presented on the subject of Virtual Communities of Practice: Enabling Peer-based Distance Learning at the Canadian Association for Distance Education (CADE) conference in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Presentation Summary

Virtual communities of practice are environments in which individuals with similar interests can learn from one another at a distance. Learners in this case are not limited to their local peers but are able to interact and learn from those who have similar experiences elsewhere. This type of virtual community requires design and planning in order to ensure that communication flows between its participants.

Wenger, McDermott and Snyder (2002) define a community of practice as “groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis”.