Can a PLE be a roadmap of a constellation of Communities of Practice?
Etienne Wenger has used the powerful metaphor of traversing a landscape of communities of practice, where our personal and professional identity is defined by our participation in a constellation of CoP’s, some of which we climb to the top of the mountain of, becoming core members and participants of that community, others, we simply skirt the foothills and pick up a flavour of the conversations going on around the base camps. As our interests and objectives in learning and knowledge management change and shift, we might shift our focus from a detailed and dynamic engagement with one CoP to a more peripheral passive interaction with several. This has certainly been my experience, as I have moved from a central engagement with a latent professional CoP in my own practice area of photojournalism and documentary photography, where I would position myself as relatively close to the top of the mountain, to new explorations of the terrains of academic higher education, photographic and media theory, and on to more recent engagements with social media, learning technology and the CoP of CoP’s by participating in workshops with the Cp square community led by Etienne , John Smith and Nancy White. Key to this traversing the landscape is the concept of transference of experiences from one domain and practice and community to another; one can bring into a new CoP a deep engagement and experience from another, brining insights and concepts that perhaps are new, challenging and energising to the new encounter; and then absorb new lessons from the core members of the new CoP and pollenate them back to one’s original home. This process of brokerage and boundary negotiation to me is central to the practice of being an active member of a variety of CoP’s, in trying to see patterns of similarity and difference, and seeing how experiences and insights from one domain can impact and transfer to another.
But how might this roadmap of interactions be visualised or reified? Perhaps conceptualising it in terms of a PLE can point a way forward. As I organise my RSS feeds in Google reader into photography, learning technology, social media, miscellaneous and so on I am organising my interactions with the various CoP’s that are represented by the bloggers that I follow. Patterns begin to emerge, as one blog references another and one bloggers comments on someone else’s post. These patterns begin to become visible to resonate as Jenny Mackness has explained, so that the CoP beings to manifest itself as a living entity in the interrelations between online activities. Add to this twitter, wikis and academic papers, and the process of knowledge formation of a CoP, whether a latent or established one, becoems apparent, and can be reified for the individual as well as the group by bookmarking, referencing and retaining links. This process of finding, filtering and filing helps to clarify these relationships, even if only in a schematic, mental way. Core members of a CoP can be identified, as the community itself selects them as the ‘thought leaders’ in that domain, and new or peripheral members who engage whether critically or supportively can be seen too. Sometimes a new member makes a crucial and controversial entry to a community by bringing in insights from another one in which they are confident enough in to be a core member.
In my own PLE looking out for these synergies, cross over’s and amplifications has become a crucial part of my sense making about the world, by constantly scanning what a variety of different CoP’s in overlapping domains and with related practices are engaged with, interdisciplinary insights are easy to spot and then to apply to ones own core CoP.
For me, this has been the key outcome of taking a PLE based approach to my learning and research, it has greatly enhanced my ability to read and make sense of the map of the topography of the mountainous terrain around me and to navigate an interesting, if not always safe, path through it.
How do you navigate your path??