Friday, June 6, 2008

Ask the Experts: Educational Communities of Practice Event

I was invited to be an "expert" in the Ask the Experts: Educational Communities of Practice session at the Best Practice Models for Elearning Community on June 4, 2008. I was in great company! The other 2 experts were Etienne Wenger and Helen Walmsley.

Etienne doesn't need an introduction since he literally wrote the book(s) on communities of practice. I was first introduced to Etienne's work through his book co-authored with Jean Lave in 1991: Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. It's beside me right now on my bookshelf - full of stickies, highlights, and dog-eared pages. I continue to learn from Etienne through the CPSquare community activities and workshops.

I met Helen Walmsley during the CPSquare Long Live the Platform online conference. We were part of the Moodle team -- I was the platform spokesperson and Helen showcased the Best Practice community. We had never crossed paths before and were really taken aback by the parallels in our lives -- both involved in elearning, both managing an online community for educational practitioners supported by a university but open to the pubic, and both using Moodle. It was neat to compare notes and share ideas for activities and community site design. I've been meaning to ask her if she also has a 3-legged dog! ;-)

The Ask the Expert session had a very interesting format. Prior to June 4th Etienne posted a Best Practice Model for Cultivating Communities of Practice document, and Helen and I posted community cases as a way to provide a quick overview for the participants who were mostly very busy professionals. Here is my SCoPE overview (images removed):
- Launched in fall, 2005 as a “reinvention” of the discontinued Global Educators’ Network which ran 1999-2003
- Moodle platform + Marginalia, Twitter, Facebook, Pageflake, Delicious, etc
- Founded on a belief that a community grows by involving its members in a variety of activities of their own choosing, and by empowering the natural leaders that emerge.
- Launched with a discussion about the community and how to proceed
- Approximately 2,000 from 47 countries
- Primarily post-secondary educators and staff
- Also graduate students, consultants, administrators, researchers, software developers

How are we proceeding?
- Membership is free and open to everyone
- Most activities are accessible without logging in
- Scheduled, facilitated, topic-based seminar discussions. Ideas for topics emerge through participation in the community
- Invite requests for Special Interest Groups to forum public (encouraged) or private communication and workspaces
- Offer support to upcoming facilitators as needed
- Invite students, researchers, instructors, authors, and curriculum and software developers to use SCoPE for sharing and advancing their work

Community coordinator role
- Keep my finger on the pulse of the community
- Plan and facilitate community activities
- Keep up with housekeeping
- Look for opportunities, link members
- Work with volunteer facilitators to help them prepare for seminar discussions
- Follow up on issues, suggestions

A sampling of SCoPE resources
- Wiki: Our collection of podcasting resources
- Mindmeister Map: Learning the Art of Online Facilitation
- Discussion leads to collaborative project: Invitation to participate
- Seminar summary: The Value of Serious Games in Virtual Worlds (PDF)

A sampling of Scope seminar topics (open access to all)
- Viral Professional Development: June 2-22, 2008 (You’re all invited!)
- Rethinking Teaching in the Sciences: April 7-27, 2008 Subscriptions 447 – Posts 116
- Learning the Art of Online Facilitation: March 1-21, 2007 Subscriptions 287 – Posts 158
- Blogging to Enhance Learning Experiences. February 12-25, 2007: Subscriptions 280 – Posts 450
- Accessibility of eLearning: December 4 - 17, 2006 Subscriptions 276 – Posts 193
- Informal Learning: May 15 - June 4, 2006 Subscriptions 286 – Posts 340
- Panda Walks Into a Bar: January 17-February 5, 2006 Subscriptions 281 – Posts 46

A sampling of SCoPE SIGs (Special Interest Groups) and Events
- Shaping Our Future: Toward a Pan-Canadian Elearning Research Agenda – 3-week online conference
- Arranging the Virtual Chairs Research Project (to study pedagogically oriented online discussions - private)
- Online Community Enthusiasts (finished life cycle?)
- SFU Faculty of Education Field Programs
- University/College/Institute Professional Development (UCIPD) Committee
- Symposium on Innovative Teaching

How are we sustaining the community?
- Fully supported by Simon Fraser University for 2 years; now provide site hosting and technical support
- Community Manager position supported by BCcampus, British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education
- Form “collaborative partnerships” to share resources, use of software, promotion efforts, and expertise – a mutual exchange of services
- Volunteers! Lots of volunteers!

What are the indicators of success?
- Number of people actively participating
- Number of people accessing site
- Willingness of members to give back
- Demonstration of appreciation
- Blog buzz
- Recognized by peers – 2007 BC Innovation Award in EdTech

What contributes to success?
- Simple starting point
- Site has basic layout, essential tools
- Involve members in discussion about the community
- Wide open
- Topics generated through participation
- Ideal for busy professionals
- No obligation to participate
- Mix of experts and novices
- Create a rhythm and reasons to return
- Collaborate on events with other communities
- Networking opportunity, place to promote work and ideas

Quotes (public) from members:
- "I think I've become a SCoPE groupie." Derek Chirnside
- "I've been lurking in the SCoPE sessions for about a year & really enjoying the discussions." Carolyn Carillon (Second Life alias)
- "I've enjoyed many a SCoPE Seminar, so this time, I thought I better get off my duff, stop lurking and introduce myself!" Susan Lester
- "One good thing about being subscribed to everything going on here at SCoPE it the opportunity to be just lazily, vicariously learning from the examples of others, a sort of active reading along...." Sus Nyrop
- "So much intriguing insight surfaced during this dialogue that was appreciated -- as I've found it does in SCoPE dialogues generally." Sarah Haavind
- "I deeply appreciate the mentors, models, and Moodle resources that SCoPE provides." Paul Beaufait
- “Looking forward to the next seminar. SCoPE is such an amazing learning environment.” Ian MacLeod
Prior to the event Helen created a single forum and launched the discussion with an invitation to introduce ourselves and provide some details about our experiences with educational communities of practice. Some took advantage of that but most of the 25 or so registrants waited until the scheduled 2-hour event.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I mean how many of you have participated in a real-time event using an asynchronous forum tool? I logged in a little before 7:00 am (my time - PDT) and joined Helen and a few others in a chat room. There was time for a nice cup of tea which Helen served in fine china, and a couple logistical questions, then it was over to the forum to get started.

The rest is a blur. There were 143 forum messages generated in a 2-hr period! It was a fabulous edge-of-the-seat flurry of questions, lists, ideas, definitions, hypotheses, advice, ah ha moments, and laughs combined with multiple browser windows and constant reloading in an attempt to keep up. It was obviously a huge challenge to try to read everything, and impossible to respond to posts in a reflective, grammar-fied, spell checker-fied way. But it didn't matter; we were all in this together, although those who used all fingers to type definitely had an advantage!

The reflective part came later. Discussions remain available in the archives, and I had turned on my email subscription so I would have the messages in my gmail archive. A few volunteers later contributed nice summaries to the forum. Several participants said they would be blogging so I hope we can track down who and where through the forum which remains open for follow-up thoughts and questions.

Would I try this format again? Absolutely! The schedule works well for busy people. The expectation was that participants would review materials arrive with questions, so there was a little pre-event thinking going on. The intensity of the event meant complete focus -- not the usual multitasking that we're all guilty of during, say, webcasts. Everyone was fully engaged and had many opportunities to contribute to the discussion, yet there was no obligation to participate. Unlike a chat tool, the topics are threaded, and concurrent but not overlapping. It's much easier to follow.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Sylvia, that's a great account of the session! Up until this event, I'd only facilitated other 'experts' and never had the very intense experience of trying to read, think and type at super-speed (and I can type using all fingers as well!). I think I may well try with other formats in future sessions - longer, slower events for those who found it rather too much!
    And, no, I don't have a 3 legged dog :)