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February 10, 2011 / mrespiers

Week 2 (a bit late) – Communities of practice

“A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm.”
Henrik Ibsen.

In the last week or two my reading and discussions have been focused upon ‘communities of practice’ and the work of Etienne Wenger. This has been serendipitous as during the same period I have become involved in a new community (
which has helped me to make sense of Wenger’s approach, (more of which below).

A ‘community of practice’ is not simply a group with shared goals, values or ideas. Neither is it bounded by geography or socal group. You don’t necessarily even need to ‘know’ the other people in the community.

“Practice is about meaning as an experience of everyday life” (Wenger, 1998, p52)

So, communities of practice are about engaging in an active process of development with the potential for many voices to be heard and synthesised. Wenger identified ‘three dimensions of the relation by which practice is the source of coherence of a community’:

Mutual engagement – doing things together, relationships, diversity, community maintenance
Joint entreprise – negotiated and shared goals, mutual accountability, within a social, cultural and historical context
Shared repertoire – styles, actions, discourses, tools, artefacts

I do not intend to explore this in more detail now, except to link my thoughts on this to my new involvement with purpos/ed which started with a request for people on twitter (@purposeducation #purposed #500words) to finish the sentence ‘I think the purpose of education is….’. This was the start of a mutual engagement and has been built on some existing relationships but, even more so, on new and diverse ones. I have never met any of the people in the community face to face, I don’t even know where most of them are.

At the time of writing there were 510 followers of @purposeducation and the slots to write a blog post of #500words were taken in the first few days. It wasn’t long before people had discussed and then started translating the site into other languages.

I have not seen it written anywhere and it is quite presumptious of me, but I think the current situation in the UK education system (see Gove quote from my last post) has been a big influence on all those involved and provides a specific context. The ‘kickstarters’ of the campaign/community/group @dajbelshaw and @andystew have provided a starting point and an outline of the 3 year plan building up to the next election but, more specific goals and methods are still to be negotiated.

Twitter and blogs are the main tools so far, facebook and some sort of ‘unconference’ are going to come to the fore soon and then who knows where or how? It is a great idea and I am pleased to be a part of it. Take a look and maybe get involved.

“Whatever it takes to make mutual engagement possible is an essential component of practice” (Wenger, 1998, p74)

Some initial thoughts on Wenger’s theory:

3 positives:

•It is quite a positive theory as it focuses upon mutuality, sharing, etc (which also links well with the ideas of Web 2.0)
•It provides a very useful framework to analyse and try to understand learning in contemporary formal and informal situations.
•It is an active theory of learning and doing that appeals to me as a teacher and as a learner.
Some questions:

•Does it always have to be about ‘gradual achievement’? What about communities of practice for revolutionary change?
•What about issues of inequality and power? i.e. do some have more power to influence the community and therefore the learning?
•Could it be applied to a more formal structure? What examples of this are there?


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