GDD710 Week 9: Communities of Practice

Image credit: Park Troopers


Having been in the tech industry for only three years, I consider myself to be somewhat of a novice in UX design. Of course, if that wasn’t the case I probably wouldn’t be studying what I am today.

That’s not to say that I am still at the first stepping stone of my career journey. I have been a colleague to some really remarkable professionals; developers, designers, salespeople, and operations experts. I can say, without exaggeration, that every person that I have worked or studied with in this industry has imparted wisdom to me in one form or another. A bold statement, yes, but also one that I stand by.

In Communities of Practice: A brief Introduction, Wenger, 2011, mentions their study of apprenticeship as a learning model found that a more complex social structure was at play than the master-apprentice dynamic that one might expect. Instead, the journeyman’s learning mostly took place through engaging with more advanced apprentices. Generalising Wenger’s notes, I suppose that I am a journeyman, and my colleagues and coursemates are advanced apprentices.

Now with that being said, Lave and Wenger, 1991, have also put forward the idea that ‘learning is inherently a social process, which is embedded in a particular social environment’. The concept that a social environment is a prerequisite for learning to take place is something that I can’t help but wrestle with.

My understanding is that learning starts with some catalyst to motivate or open the learner to new knowledge. The purchase of a new book, a written learning objective at the start of a webinar, or an arbitrary Reddit thread that piques an interest. For the sake of argument, let’s accept that all such catalysts have social grounding. The learner can then move away from that environment, into isolation, continuing their learning on their own accord with further research or practice. As long as learning can take place in isolation in any measure, I feel inclined to disagree – learning is certainly supplemented or facilitated by a social environment, but it isn’t inherently a social process.

Perhaps I am arguing the semantics of Lave and Wenger’s point. Maybe if we all sat down for a socially distanced pint, we’d come out in agreement. Pedagogically speaking, the consensus seems to be that independent practice and self-reflection are cornerstones of learning, especially in education (Kayler and Weller, 2007; Gow and Kember, 1990; McLoughlin and Lee, 2009).

Further reading might help me unpick what Wenger et al. believe constitutes as a social learning environment. As it stands, I’m having a hard time reconciling the notion of learning being an inherently social process with independent practice and self-reflection.


The goal of getting better at something is different from the goal of being good at it. There is a pleasure in improving your abilities even if that doesn’t translate into absolute perfection.

Quoted in this week’s content, from Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. The goal of a community of practice is to get better together; literally, to practise communally. I find that quite comforting.

In a study of employee participation at a multinational company by Ardichvili, Page, and Wentling, 2003, it was found that individuals were hesitant to contribute out of fear of criticism or inadvertently misleading community members. At the start of this module, I was certainly intimidated by the idea of engaging with other students in the forums, touching upon that anxiety in my week 1 reflection. Now, I realise that there isn’t a demand for perfection in the forums. Any contribution I make will be free from judgement.

Of course, that was something that we were told in the very first webinar. The module and forums are space for learning, and we should feel comfortable to ask any questions and participate in discussions freely. At no point did I consciously doubt that sentiment, but the anxiety was only alleviated with time and continued interaction.

I’m now in a position where I trust my coursemates enough to be active in this community without worry. Trust being one of Preece’s three building blocks for uniting members in a community of practice (Preece, 2004).

The second building block, empathy, has been present in the community throughout the module. Empathy was of particular importance in RI2, when I collaborated with Astrid. We both had our external commitments to attend, and we had to work around a significant time zone gap. We found a way of working through empathy and mutual understanding that made RI2 one of the most enriching exercises in the module.

The third of Preece’s building blocks was reciprocity. In the Freelancer’s bible, Sara Horowitz and Toni Sciarra Poynter, 2012, discuss opening a ‘love bank account’, likening contributions to currency. Before a member makes a withdrawal, they should first deposit their own positive contributions to the community. My hope is that the contributions I have made to this community have been valued by my coursemates.

With that being said, Horowitz and Sciarra Poynter’s examples of giving aren’t exclusively professional. Smaller gestures – coffeetime articles and off-topic chat – are still valued contributions.


Personally, the best part of being a member of the Games Academy community has been the camaraderie and support by tutors and coursemates alike. There is no denying that I have found reflective and academic writing difficult. But this community has repeatedly been a source of motivation and inspiration. It has uplifted me when I have felt overwhelmed, and we have banded together as assignment deadlines draw near.

If nothing else, that esprit de corps alone has validated my decision to go on this academic journey.



References

ARDICHVILI, A., PAGE, V. and WENTLING, T. 2003. ‘Motivation and barriers to participation in virtual knowledge‐sharing communities of practice’. Journal of Knowledge Management. 7(1), 64-77.

GOW, L. and KEMBER, D. 1990. Does higher education promote independent learning?. Higher Education 19, 307–322.

HOROWITZ, S. AND SCIARRA POYNTER, T. 2012. The Freelancer’s Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Have the Career of Your Dreams–On Your Terms. New York: Workman Publishing.

KAYLER, M. and WELLER, K. 2007. Pedagogy, Self-Assessment, and Online Discussion Groups. Educational Technology & Society, 10 (1), 136-147.

LAVE, J. and WENGER, E. 1991. Situated Learning Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press.

MCLOUGHLIN, C. and LEE, M. J. W. 2009,. ‘Personalised learning spaces and self-regulated learning: Global examples of effective pedagogy’. Presented at 26th Annual ascilite International Conference, Auckland. Available at: https://www.ascilite.org/conferences/auckland09/procs/mcloughlin.pdf [accessed 22/12/2020].

PREECE, J. 2004. Etiquette, Empathy and Trust in Communities of Practice: Stepping-Stones to Social Capital. Journal of Universal Computer Science, 10(3), 294-302.

SHIRKY, C. 2008. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. New York: Penguin Press.

WENGER, E. 2011. Communities of practice: A brief introduction. Virginia: National Science Foundation. 

Published by Josh 'Skoob' Brough

Experience enthusiast. UX/UI designer. Father to (little) one. Currently studying MA User Experience Design at Falmouth University. Here’s the chronicle.

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