Thursday, November 13, 2014

Communities of Practice. Week 4 of MITx 11.132x Design and Development of Educational Technology MOOC

Ramón Talavera-Franco

To read week 1 post click here      To read week 2 post click here      To read week 3 post click here      To read weeks 5 & 6 click here

During the fourth week of this course, over 60 students met in an unhangout to share notes about our final project in particular, and about the course in general. Unhangout is an open source platform for running large scales conferences online. We all met in a “lobby” where we had the opportunity to exchange “hello” notes or ask questions about the unhangout. Clearly, unhangouts were a new tool for the most of us to use, so we didn’t know what to expect from it. Professor Kofler welcomed us via a stream life video and explained the mechanics of the unhangout. Then, we met in one of the 10 (or more?) breakout sessions for up to six people per room, and we received three questions to discuss among us. Answering the questions was not mandatory, but they certainly helped to break the ice and find a starting point for a conversation.
We used unhangout to better understand “communities of practices”, topic that was discussed during the fourth week of the course. According to Wenger-Trayner (2007) “Communities of practice are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavor […] communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly”

According to this definition, MOOCs could be excellent communities of practice. Why? First, because those who decide to enroll in a course want to learn more about a topic that they like or they are passionate about. Second, because there are no academic obligations to comply with the course. Therefore, those who stay in the course and finish it, do so mainly for the pure joy of learning. Third, because the forums and groups in a MOOC provide students with the opportunity to interact with each other, share ideas, and engage in a learning process. However, MOOCs have not reached the potential to become communities of practice yet. At least that is my opinion. Students’ participation in forums and groups is still very low, and those who engage in communication during a course, hardly continue that communication once the course is over. Despite MOOC meetups are opened all over the world, the formula to build communities which remain beyond the courses’ length is something that still needs to be found. Hence, MOOCs are more individual experiences where students engage in the learning process, leaving aside the community.

However, MOOCs could be excellent communities of practice as I mentioned before. As an example, the student from Sri Lanka whom I mentioned in my recent post, clearly shares my enthusiasm about MOOCs. Hence, we could nurture our communication during and beyond the course length and try to find others who want to join us. By the way, I met her back in the unhangout and we shared a great conversation about the course.

As a "community of practice" example, the unhangout was a great experience! I had the opportunity to meet with six other students during the breakout session. They were from different places of the world such as Paris, Turkey, Germany, and the United States. We had a half an hour chat, a very short time for six people who wanted to know more about the others’ projects and observations about the course. Almost at the end of the session my computer ran out of battery so I had to switch to an Ipad. Sadly, the Google hangout app didn’t work well, so any time I tried to reconnect with my group, the app sent me to another session. The good coincidence was that in the other session I found the student from Sri Lanka, and I had the pleasure to meet a student from India. Both students are Ph.D’s so our discussion about the “communities of practices” on this course was very enlightening.

We still have two more weeks to come, so… stay tuned!

Wenger-Trayner, E. (2007). Communities of practice. A brief discussion. Retrieved from:

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