My head is very much focused on communities of practice at the moment, as much of my work involves facilitation and co-ordination within a professional-social network for educators (the VLN).
I struggle, to be honest, with the tension between the natural evolution of communities of practice, grassroots-up, driven by members’ needs and wishes, and a community space that must show value, be accountable, justify the time and effort to facilitate and support it.
Who am I to assign a value to another person’s learning?
Two interesting papers I have read recently that have helped to clarify this potential dichotomy for me have been:
Feger, S. & Arruda, E. (2008).Professional Learning Communities:
Key Themes from the Literature. Brown University: Education Alliance.
This has provided a useful overview of communities focused on teachers’ professional learning, reflecting back to me some of the issues I have been pondering regarding measurability and accountability:
“Fullan (2006) asserts that there are many examples of PLCs that are implemented superficially, without an awareness of the depth that is needed for producing an impact on learning. He proposes that the effectiveness of PLCs should be judged on how well they are able to create cultures of professional learning on a system scale. Similarly, Stoll et al. (2006) made note that researchers assume that PLCs are effective when these practices are observed, that these characteristics in and of themselves are used to denote a successful PLC. While confirming impact is not necessarily a challenge for PLCs to tackle, establishing positive impact of PLCs has potential to alleviate other challenges faced by PLCs.” (p. 10)
The 2011 paper from Wenger, de Laast and Traynor – Promoting and assessing value creation in CoPs and networks: a framework – has been extremely helpful. It walks the tightrope between ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’, acknowledging the situation in which folk like myself find ourselves, but providing a useful, Kirkpatrick-adapted framework for capturing the layers of value that a community might create.
Neither paper has resolved issues for me, but, if value must be established, then to work from that which those using the community value seems to be the best starting point.
[Image source: ‘Crowd thinking by fotographic1980 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net]