Friday, October 27, 2006

Communities of practice: comm.unities.of.prac.tice 2.0

Martin Kloos wrote his thesis for the University of Amsterdam on communities of practice 2.0. It's written in English, so if you are interested, you can download it and read it too. I think it's brilliant that I can be in touch with research results through blogs! Martin studied the effects of weblogs, wikis and social bookmarking on communities of practice, as part of his thesis for Business Informations Studies. Students were experimenting with blogs, wikis and social bookmarking and he interviewed them individually and did focus group interviews. The setting in which the tools were used were small familiar groups and all were master students, using the tools in an educational setting. He analysed what the tools influence is on mutuality, competence and continuity in the community of practice. And secondly, at orientation, reflection and exploration. There is a table at page 108 which summarizes these results.

It is interesting that though the tools are 'public' tools, and have potentially boundary crossing potential (to draw in other people with different ideas) no outsider jointed the conversations on the blog during the course. The blog was very successful in influencing the face-to-face discussions. People who were less assertive in class felt they got a voice on the blog, leading to an increased willingness to join the conversation. It was also seen as a source of inspiration. It was experiences that knowing what other colleagues read, what they share through their bookmarks can enhance the feeling of engagement. Finally wikis created a form of accountability for both process and product, whereas the meta content of a wiki provides insights into the composition, objectives and development of a community.

Very interesting are the conclusions, one interviewee wonders what triggers the enthusiasm of users when it comes to web2.0 software. He/or she believes: " it has to do with personal values. The essence is that we are all trapped in a system of top-down corporations and so forth. I believe that we are slowly crossing a line where larger groups of people want different things." They talked about at length about the acceptance of open source values and principles, as openly sharing information and collaboration as the key to success.

Participants classified the main functions and feel of the tools and what kind of processes within a community of practice they can support. Blogs are characterized in terms of reflection. Social bookmarking more in terms of exploration, and wikis support varying levels of participation. Blogs and wikis support engagement more than social bookmarking and stimulate orientation and reflection. Wikis and social bookmarking offer facilitaties that better support the work of alignment than blogs.

This research again highlights that people determine the use of the tools. Example is the fact that the blog did not have any boundary function, as a result of barriers created by the group. A blog can work as a boundary crossing tool, but probably only works when the blogger is a broker him/herself (and has people from various communities of practice reading the blog). It is not an 'embedded' feature of the blog.

In this case master students were testing all these tools in a course setting. Ofcourse you may look at the class as a community of practice, but it is a very specific situation with members in the same age group, not resembling other (corporate, inter-organisational) CoPs with members of a wide range of ages.

The tools did energize and stimulate different conversations and engagement. I think it is important to know the ins- and outs of the various tools as a facilitator, plus the group process, so that you know how to stimulate certain processes by introducing tools that energize the group.

One common feature of all web2.0 tools is that they leave visible traces, and hence make it easier to document or analyse what's been happening, as compared to informal, face-to-face interactions. So it could make result measurement of communities of practice much easier!


Martin Kloos said...
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Martin Kloos said...

Hi Joitske,

thanx for this insightful review of my study. I really appreciate it! It looks like you read it quite thoroughly :).

Indeed it is great to get in touch with interesting people through blogs. Maybe I should send this to a professor of mine who recently a critical post on the effects of blogs: