Monday, January 29, 2007

Peer assists in communities of practice

Bellanet and the university of Ottawa have created a flash animation on peer assists. It's a great, thorough explanation. I think you can use the animation easily with a beamer to explain peer assists to a group learning about them. The animation is more lively and visual than a powerpoint presentation. If peer assist is roughly the same as Dutch 'intervision' you could probably add a part on the wide range of different methods of doing a peer assist. (they explain only one way of doing it).

Lucie Lamoureux of km4dev pointed to the Bamboo project blogposter who elaborated on different uses of peer assists in networks:
  • Having a "mini" Peer Assist as a regular part of network meetings. Potential Peer Assistees would submit their problems ahead of time and a portion of the meeting would be spent on brainstorming around one or two problems. This would have the added benefit of encouraging attendance at meetings because people both love to have their problems solved, as well as being able to offer help to others.
  • A Rotating Peer Assist would be a great idea for a half-day or full-day network conference. Organizers could identify a theme for the Peer Assist problems and/or consider having Community of Practice Peer Assists that relate to various job functions, such as having a "Case Manager Peer Assist Day" where case managers could present on their problems and get feedback from fellow participants. This seems to me a far better use of time that would be infinitely more engaging than the conference activities we usually see.
  • A technology-enhanced Peer Assist is another option. A wiki would be the perfect complement to the Peer Assist session. Rather than recording ideas on flip chart paper, they could be recorded directly into a specially created wiki. This would then be available for participants to add to later allowing them to provide links to other resources, sample documents, etc.
In the e-collaboration gatherings, we are reserving almost a third of the meetings for a kind of peer assist. It helps to stay very close to the actual practice of participants. Last two times, we asked people to submit their questions ahead of time. Next time, we will probably ask people to forward their questions during the meeting. This will allow for joint prioritisation, and will ensure questions are really 'fresh'. Last time, a few people had moved on in their problem definition in between the time they submitted the questions and the actual gathering.

While introducing peer assists in communities of practice, it may needs some time, to create the space for it, and get people to use the space proactively. So, my personally advice would be that it helps to prepare the sessions more in advance during the first few meetings, and gradually make it a more spontaneous process. Of course, that depends again on the group, whether people are already used to peer assists, etc. The size and frequency of changing members probably influences the level of trust and hence depth of inquiry.

No comments: