#SocMedHE15 #4 – 2nd Half

Workshop 2

The afternoon opened in the second workshop, where this time I had opted for In it for the long term – evolving your community of practice over time: learning from the New Social Media, New Social Science network (#NSMNSS), headed up by Kandy Woodfield, Curtis Jessop and Wasim Ahmed.

After discussing what community meant in this context, Kandy proposed that although we’ve come to understand quite well how communities are formed, there is less awareness of how they are sustained. This session was about considering the strategies undertaken which have thus far maintained momentum in the New Social Media, New Social Sciences community. In small groups, we were asked to discuss and consider several questions, then feed back our findings to the whole group.

flickr photo by ianguest http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/23812233531 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Rather than go through the questions and list the findings, since that summary has already been done over on the NSMNSS blog, let me just link to that. Though these points arose in response to questions around sustaining an online community, there are things to learn here for anyone conducting online research; drivers and inhibitors of engagement, how to encourage new voices and attract fresh participants.


Short Papers 3 & 4

At this point I should be recounting my experiences in the final sessions, but unfortunately I chose poorly and the sessions I attended didn’t fulfil any learning needs for me. In each session, I had a to make a choice between two equally interesting sounding papers, but seemed to have opted for the wrong one on each occasion … but without retrospect, who knows.


Closing remarks

Although my own research is focused more on pre-tertiary educational contexts, the majority of experiences I had during the day were sufficiently broad in their applicability to be of considerable use to me. I appreciated the opportunity to connect with people I’ve so far only ‘met’ online; this is a virtue of conferences many people talk about. In addition to moving my thinking on the ethical issues in my research forward, I also collected a bunch of resources and links to academic papers that will prove of great use. All that AND a useful drinks cup too!

Beyond Communities of Practice

A collection of papers/chapters seeking to address some of the shortcomings the editors identify in the concept of Communities of Practice (CoP). The fundamental criteria which identify a CoP are:

“mutual engagement, joint enterprise and shared repertoire”

It is argued that a model which fails to draw upon the issues of language and discourse, social structures and power relationships inherent in shared meaning making, would benefit and be enhanced by being extended to address these elements

When I first began scratching at the surface of professional learning through social media, the notion of CoPs held a certain appeal. Here we see educators linked through informal networks and learning through participation and involvement in situated practice. Individuals interact and communicate, learn from one another, discuss and resolve problems they face and in so doing, create new knowledge. However I was advised that CoPs might not be a fruitful avenue to pursue and were somewhat limited in scope for the field I wished to explore.

Although people participate in shared learning experiences, they aren’t strictly engaged in ‘sustained pursuit of a shared enterprise’ (Wenger, 1998). The world of social media is too messy; one where group membership is multiple and fluid and boundaries are, at best, fuzzy. CoPs may be too unidimensional to explain the complexity of professional learning through social media. In assigning a label to a group of people (which then requires criteria with to identify who is and who isn’t a member) it struggles to account for the complex interrelationships which cut across, penetrate and are informed by one another.

A more appealing concept was that of ‘affinity spaces’ proposed by Gee in the final chapter. These are semiotic social spaces, defined by the thoughts, actions and interactions which are undertaken there. Spaces where individuals share a common endeavour, but group membership need not be assumed. This innately feels like a better description of what is taking place through social media and is a model I’d like to revisit and interrogate a little harder.


I can see why the editors and authors want to extend CoPs to address the issues of language more deeply. It is through language that people negotiate meaning, often through written or spoken text, but increasingly using other literacies. If people are ‘mutually engaged’ in ‘joint enterprise,’ then surely their discourse is the way in which that is achieved? However those chapters illustrating cases where it is claimed CoPs only partially model the circumstances, may be missing the point. Rather than needing to extend the ideas within CoPs, as is suggested, perhaps an alternative framework would have provided a better lens? Anyone for ANT?

Barton, D., Tusting, K., 2005. Beyond communities of practice: Language power and social context. Cambridge University Press.

Gee, J.P., 2005. Semiotic social spaces and affinity spaces, in: Beyond Communities of Practice Language Power and Social Context. Cambridge University Press, pp. 214–232.

Wenger, E., 1998. Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K.; New York, N.Y.