Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Communities of Practice and Wrap-Up

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Jun 24, 2006

Discussion sessions from the second day of the Canadian Council on Learning conference on Adult Learning.

Full Reports

Literacy by Allan Quigley

Culture by Darlene Clover

E-learning by Helene Fournier

Gender by Leona English

Social Movements by Budd Hall

Learning Communities by Donovan Plumb

Barriers and Access by Dorothy MacKeracher

Communities of Practice Discussion

They have set up four lenses through which we can look at the actions we can recommend. I am reluctant to try to define 'communities of practice' and leave it broadly defined. We've heard in a numver of reports the term used, a whole range of communities of practice.

What we've been asked to do is come up with a list of specific actions. They want us to boil this down to three. Look at:
- what are the issues related to communities of practice?
- what should ALKC (Adult Learning Knowledge Community) do?

For example: making a stringer connection with adult educators and communities of practice in Quebec.

Comment: what is a community of pratice?

Response (from the note-taker): Wenger - a context within which people join together around a shared enterprise or a shared practice and they negotiate a common understanding or a common sense of things around that.

Comment: so it's very deliberate...

Response: He says communities of practice spring up all the time. Eg. a group of people talking about the hockey game. Because we have that shared understanding, other people outside out community don't have that understanding; the communities have an edge around them.

For example: adult learners working in community-based literacy work. Or the rural women's institute. There's a community of practice around that. I'd like to focus on practitioners as much as I can.

Response: Maybe the hockey example was a bad idea, they can last 25 years.

Question (same person): How are they different from coalitions.

Response: the learning is the key thing, they are joined together by the learning. Communities are implicated by things like forming identity. Because, for example, because we're all in here, we're a community of practice, and it forms part of our identity.

Another comment: I think of people needing to form a community of practice, a way of thinking about it, which is very different from a coalition, which is a group of organizations forming a common cause, where a community of practice, we may be out there individually, the more we can connect, we form a community of pratice.

[Small Group Sessions]



Overview: Issues

Town vs Gown - tension between academic and practitioner discourses and priorities. There are power relationships and governance implications for ALKC. Who makes the decision on definitions of terms, priorities for research? How does structure promote genuine collaboration? How do we ensure policy and practice is relevant?

The Quebec and Francophone dimensions were not covered adequately. There is a preference for integrated reports rather than a silo approach.

Don't forget prior learning and achievement recognition.

Definitions: there is a need for common language and terminology. CCL/ALKC should take the lead here.

Finally, a number of the reports referred to how difficult it is to fins consolidated sources of research on adult learning. CCL should develop centralized reference and resource resources. Could be done by CCL for all learning or ALKC for adult learning.

Communities of Practice:

Provision of tools - means to support communities of practice. This is not a question of ALKC doing things for CoPs, but rather, enabling CoPs for themselves. Identifying emerging CoPs, bilingual tools, fostering collaboration, making next year's meeting a colloquium.

Structure ALKC to include the Francophone reality in Canada in terms of CoPs. That should include talking to non-practitioners as well. Not just about language and translation, but about structure.

Taking and enabling - should be understood that communities take a community-based approach rather than a corporate or government approach. (This was heavily edited from the original formulation)

Here is the original formulation:

The communities actually engaged in learning are working primarily from a social, cultural and often community-based perspective, rather than a corporate or governmental perspective, and this should be reflected in the actions and priorities of the CCL.

Diversity of Adult Learning:

Started looking at the diversity in the group - different areas of interest and their scope - we had the diversity in that room (note: there is exactly one visible minority in this room)

Create a portal, be the adult learning clearing house, meets international standards for interoperability, bilingual, user-centered, and participatory (like Wikipedia).

Create a national celebration of adult learning. 'Growing Canada: Adults Learning Together'. Promote to media, connect to media. Include informal as well as the formal.

Work around building a common language. Create a Canadian Adult Learning Thesarus.

Community-Based Research:

The ALKC is faced with a dilemma - the problem is it is not clear to what extent we recognize there is a different logic in developing knowledge and action from logic and developing knowledge and action from community. It is not town versus gown - town has a logic, and gown has a logic. Clearing houses play a part, but it creates a problem, because there are things that are specific to the community, so in the clearing house it becomes important that the voices are heard.

Question of resources: there is a need to somehow have access to knowing the chances of getting money, knowing what fails and what is available. 80 percent of the time is actually spent writing the proposal.

Also - we heard about skills and toolsets - it is not possible for community-based people to go away and stay in nice places like the Crowne Plaza - the idea of maybe using the internet to do some courses on how to do some of this work. One of the challenges is to write about it and write it up. Like the Danes did it - they had people being sent out to assist.

University-Community Research Alliances:

Relationship building. This starts with listening to the community, and the community listening to the academics.

We have to identify the researchers who are active in the area, the community groups, the whole variety. Once you identify, then bring them together - we did that here, but we can have local symposia. Because you have to have the building of trust before electronic communication works. And then see, are we working for the same thing, the same way.

Information technology - use to share information. One idea, a dating service - profile academics, profile the community groups. Something that's dynamic, has some real humanity in it. Technology that empowers groups. Wikipedia was open, you go back and its changed. Case stududies, but dynamic case studies. To know what didn't work. Websites, connection websites. Try to show real lived community there.

Maybe start with protocols, principles of university-community collaboration. Build on what's out there. Not just 'you do this' - it has to have a reflective element.


Comment: I'm having a culture-shock problem. I have always lived in urban Canada. My world is compoised of a huge diverity of cultural groups. I am mystified. I am pleased that the absence of French is addressed. But I'm not seeing the kinds of learning priorities I've seen in those urban centres.

Reply: That point came out in the review of the groups. Apologies that it didn't get highlighted.

Comment: Aboriginal Learning Knowledge Centre - we have a mandate to look at lifelong learning. Colleague looks at adult learning. Looking at how we build a larger aspect of aboriginal learning here. Maybe put it all one one portal, the CCL portal.

Comment: response to first comment. Our group is addressing diversity in adult learning, and we addressed that, by things like common terminology.

Comment: appropriateness of adult learning in this room. This is the J. Harper Kent Theatre. He got an honorary high school graduate certificate and an honorary doctorate in the same week.

Comment: everything we are talking about is learning, but we're not talking about the actual learners being involved, except as subjects. We need to put them pack in the mix. If our goal is to help them they should be in the centre somehow.

Comment: how much say does the knowledge centre have in determining its own course of action, how much autonomy?

Response: we have multiple players here, and CCL is the significant player, they provide us with the funding, and they are actively involved in defining our vision and our business plan. There has been a great deal of flexibility in how they've responded. The five centres were set up in a kind of emergent sort of way. It was a question of getting a group of stakeholders together. Also latitude in how the governance was set up. I saw quite a lot in the language about principles and values that are key to adult learning. I sometimes wondered, is this necessary to say, that we treat each other respectfully, and are inclusive, and of course it's necessary to say. I have addressed how it was set up, the question is probably directed to the reality, and we're in a wait and see mode. It was set up with public money, and of course there's accountability.

Follow-up: will the knowledge centre be able to take on more responsibility, eg., mobilization?

Response: the mandate includes knowledge mobilization and knowledge exchange. Knowledge mobilization meaning speading information around. We set up mechanisms and processes. And we advise CCL on research priorities, learning indicators and benchmarks.

Comment: how would you measure the success? When the learners have taken control and are demanding its continuation. It is vital that we remember our focus.

Comment: we seem to have been talking about adults as though they are people wo are partaking in a formal leaning process, and we shouldn't forget there are people who are undertaking learning only to get something done, that they are learning as citizens, they are learners only temporarily, and foremost citizens.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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