Book Notes & Thoughts: Communities of Practice, Part II


Part II took me a lot longer to read than the reading schedule I had laid out for myself in June. I got bogged down reading the epilogue and life just kept getting in the way!

Wenger uses great examples to illustrate his concepts throughout, whether from his vignettes about the claims processors or everyday life, but the final chapter on education really brought everything together for me with the concepts coalescing around a concrete application. When you view legacy schools through this lens, it is clear how they are lacking possibilities for mutual engagement, material to support imagination, and participatory alignment. (p.183) In contrast, I see many positive connections with the personalized learning environments I have observed in Wisconsin, places where students define their trajectories, explore their identities, and participate in a communities of learning. “Indeed, the mutuality of engagement is a mutuality of learning.” (p.277)

What I liked about the identity component of communities of practice (CoP) is that it explains a lot of my observations and gives them a coherent nature. For example, I worked at a school where my work spanned multiple communities: the middle school teacher, the technology department, the boarding program, and sometimes all-school committees. I could feel my behavior shift in each situation, everything from how I participated in meetings to how I dressed. I negotiated a multimembership identity (and loved it) and brokered many conversations across these communities. (p.255) I could see too how I carried ideas from one to the other, where the technology department meetings almost served as an innovation zone where we shared what happened in other divisions and brought those back to ours. “Boundaries are inevitable and useful. They define a texture for engaged identities, not vague identities that float at the level of an abstract, unfathomable organization.” (p.254)
Continue reading “Book Notes & Thoughts: Communities of Practice, Part II”

Book Notes & Thoughts: Communities of Practice, Part I

Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity, by Etienne Wenger

At the end of my first two semesters in graduate school, I think I know just enough now to know that I do not know what I want to study or how I want to study it. I am still interested in networks, leadership, and change, but do not know the level at which I want to resolve those ideas, much less how I would study it. Much of the work I want to do this summer and fall is searching for a conceptual frame that helps me describe my observations in a way that moves understanding (mine and research generally) forward. I’m beginning this here with Communities of Practice.

Reading this was slow, especially coming off of the three previous books I’ve written about (Connected, Where Good Ideas Come From, and Disrupting Class), which were popular nonfiction, written to be engaging to a general audience. Communities of Practice is definitely aimed for an academic audience, and “presents a theory of learning that starts with this assumption: engagement in social practice is the fundamental process by which we learn and so become who we are.” This assumption is not how I have previously conceived learning. I think it is pretty typical in a Western, individualist society to think of learning as something individuals do, with teaching as something we do to others, not as something created between us. Continue reading “Book Notes & Thoughts: Communities of Practice, Part I”