How Online Communities of Practice Shape Our Work

on Feb 07, 2013 in Blog by

In education reform, technology increasingly allows us to work across classrooms, schools, districts, states, and often even international borders.  Online dialogues via email are a way of life for most of us and we routinely connect through webinars, Google Plus, Discussion Forums, Twitter, Facebook, and many other platforms.  Online communities of practice and collaboration sites allow ongoing working relationships that span time zones and geographical borders to promote continuous knowledge sharing.  Many of you may have been part of a community of practice in the past or are currently a member of one or more of these types of communities – whether completely online, in-person, or a mixture of both.   If you are not familiar with online communities of practice, visit the U.S. Department of Education School Turnaround site to see how they work.

Here at West Wind we have designed and managed the collaboration sites for several online communities of practice.  We recently updated our online collaboration guides (posted under “Online Collaboration”) we published in our digital library.  During the process we spent some time talking about how online communities of practice have impacted our work and our working environment.

West Wind Senior Policy Analyst, Deb Hansen, shared some of her thoughts about how online communities of practice have changed her work.  Deb shared, “Having a CoP has provided a way to find out the needs of colleagues and respond to those needs very quickly and in a systematic way.  Information that might be useful to a few people is easily accessed by others who find that they have similar interests.  It is much easier to bring new ideas, the point of view of various participants, and the knowledge of experts in the field into a real time dialogue about priority concerns. Through these discussions it is possible to expand thinking and stimulate creativity.  I have found ways to capitalize on the relationships I have and used the CoP to seek out talented people I know around the country to get answers to my questions and to keep grounded in my area of expertise.”

In my own work, I find that working with an online community of practice encourages me to look for potential solutions by asking questions of virtual colleagues, sharing my concerns online, and searching other people’s posts for similar issues.  I often find that my online colleagues are able and willing to share lessons learned that lead me in a new direction and help me see my question in a new light.

Over the next few months we will post some blogs that highlight our work around communities of practice – both online and in-person.  We would love to hear your experiences of working with online communities of practice.  Please take a minute to let us know how your work has changed as technology allows us to engage in different ways.  And take a minute to look over our guides (posted under “Online Collaboration”) to designing and growing online communities of practice, our case study of the design of the Iowa Forum on Competency-based Education, and our guide to best practices for Twitter.  We would love to hear any feedback you have.

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