Here are some off-the-cuff thoughts in response to study questions posted by cscl-intro course co-organizer Monica:
Some prompts/questions for Wk 1. Feel free to respond to these, or, better yet, post your own! To tie this into the assessment framework, we could create another “Questioner” Badge, for those who would like to pose general quesitons to the community…
The questions below are posed with specific relation to our own course:
#1. Wenger writes that “participation ‘refers not just to local events of engagement in certain activities with certain people, but to a more encompassing process of being active participants in the practices of social communities and constructing identities in relation to these communities’” (1998: 4).
- What types of established practices are we either explicitly or implicitly relying upon in order to create an #introcscl learning community? How do we begin to talk about identity in the context of an 8 week, online course?
- The community that has congregated around p2pu and online open education has developed a set of tools and methods to execute collaborative learning that are distinct from the tools of the university. These include the notion that you turn in an “open” assignment by posting it on a blog, tweeting it with #csclintro, and aggregating it into the class’s view at the central class portal. This CoP will be the only one that does it with precisely this hashtag, though the technique is shared among a broader community of open learners. In this course, we’re developing knowledge of a specific vocabulary and concept set together. It will be specialized,
#2 . Can we consider ourselves (the #introcscl core group + followers) a community of practice?
- I think so: CoPs can be more or less formal, have varying degrees of longevity, and include different amounts of individual dedication. Lave and Wenger said, “Learners inevitably participate in communities of practitioners” as part of an attempt to say that “mastery of knowledge and skill requires newcomers to move toward full participation in the socio-cultural practices of a community”, but I think the first half can be separated. If we are learning, we are participating in a CoP. According to the theory, if we are to learn well, we must make it a good one and fully integrate ourselves into the subject area and discussion.
#3. In his book, Education and Mind in the Knowledge Age, Bereiter argues that “situated cognition theory falls short when it comes to handling the status of knowledge once it is pried loose from practice” (57). In other words, the ideas of ‘situated cognition’ and ‘communities of practice’ have helped to conceptualize and articulate how knowledge is constituted in social relations and cultural tools (particularly with respect to slowly evolving and traditional communities or groups); however, they do not deal adequately with the abstract knowledge – the “less situated” type (as Bereiter describes, “knowledge there for the taking, by anyone who has access to it and who can make something of it“) (55). These ideas are also cannot be applied adequately to contemporary contexts that are characterized by rapid change and fluctuation.
- Is the model of a ‘community of practice’ relevant or useful when describing or defining a P2P “study group” like this one? What components can be useful to draw from when considering course design or assessment strategies? What concepts might we need to build or even abandon?
- First of all, to claim that knowledge is ever “there for the taking” requires a theory of how one acquires knowledge. And “making something of it” implies contextualization. Bereiter may be right that theories of situated cognition don’t explain well how knowledge is transferred from the context of one CoP to another, though you could come up with examples of when it happens. In fact, I believe transferring knowledge from one context to another is an important human skill (and one our models of learning must take into account.)
- To that end, I combine Connectivist theory from Downes and Siemens with Cognitive Metaphor Theory from Lakoff and Johnson. From Connectivism, we understand society is composed of webs of overlapping communities each connected to different but overlapping knowledge sets. For example, English speakers are a connectivist web. From Conceptual Metaphors, we have tools to describe how knowledge is transferred between domains. (For example LOVE IS A JOURNEY, one of Lakoff and Johnson’s core metaphor examples, allows us to reason about a complex topic, love, using the familiar players and logic inherent to a different context, journeys.) My favorite thing about these two theories is how they can be applied to communities and domains of many different sizes, shape, and formality. Whereas it may be hard to describe the relationships bonding all Americans, for instance, into one community of practice (which is more of a container metaphor, where one is IN or OUT), it’s not hard to imagine them as a network, where nodes are not all necessarily connected to one another and bonds may be strong or weak between any of them. Connectivist theory is looser than communities of practice and begins to make up for the holes between contexts that Bereiter feels some knowledge can fall. Cognitive metaphors allow people to transfer knowledge they built up within one CoP in a certain vocabulary into another context. Metaphor is the tool of abstraction Bereiter is looking for, I think. Within a metaphor, knowledge is not absolutely abstract. It is situated in a domain, yet it is portable.
- I think that cognitive metaphors may allow us to be a little looser with the concept of communities of practice, enough that where a context appears to take the form of a CoP, we can apply the reasoning familiar to that theory as if it were a metaphor. “Intro to CSCL is a Community of Practice” – Then, we can transfer our knowledge of working with communities of practice to how we deal with the class. This allows us to analyze how well the CoP concept fits in the CSCL-Intro context. I think, pretty well. We are developing a shared vocabulary and set of tools, between the p2pu forum, #csclintro tag on Twitter, and user blogs, etc. The familiar elements are there: people, concepts, tools, a purpose. There may be a couple elements familiar to the CoPs people have occupied before, like a hierarchy with a boss or instructor, but I think enough of the metaphor maps successfully to be able to reason based on the logic of CoPs.
- To be a successful community of practice, we can draw on Wenger and Lave: “the mastery of knowledge and skill requires newcomers to move toward full participation in the socio-cultural practices of a community” – If we are to learn about CSCL, we must become familiar with the important perspectives in the field through our readings and discussion. As an example of CSCL in practice, this p2pu course can actually advance the field by testing certain variables in course design and assessment. For example, we are testing a badges system of peer assessment. This is a new technique in learning, and we will make our contribution to the field by seeing how it works.
P.S. I don’t think we should offer a “questioner” badge. Questioning is something everybody should feel like they should/could be doing during a course without making it out to be a special achievement. I think offering a questioner badge may pose a psychological barrier to asking questions. After all, we can throw out those questions on #csclintro and they’ll be imported into the class. It’s just natural.