Ok, so I am sitting in the dentist office this morning, waiting for 3 of my kids to rotate through, reading Cultivating Communities of Practice. Going through the part about the stages of a CoP, and something suddenly clicked. I think I found my theme to tie together the faculty piece, the student piece, and the goat story…
From Goats to Graduates: Building Community Along the Way
I can use Wenger’s stages of development to frame my ARP. 4H-CCL, my 4-H Leaders email list (est. 1998) is in stage 4 and moving into stage 5. Goatweb (2 years old) is in about stage 3 – maturing, subdividing topics based on member interest, looking to create a knowledge base to respond to newbie questions. My brown bag lunches for the faculty (5-6 months old) is a stage 2 CoP – coalescing into a group, building connections between core members, exploring insights, ideas, and practices that are worth sharing.
Then I have 2 groups of students. There are the ones in my Internet Research class that never really took off, although a small subset of them did begin to develop a stage 1 relationship. My other students are the web design groupies, the ones who have been with me for more than one semester, volunteered to TA for my beginning class, hang out in my office, eat my food, and show up on my doorstep at home to watch movies. They contact each other through IM and email for help with design problems and enjoy the social aspects of their relationship. We have a shared history, common vocabulary, inside jokes, and similar interests. Over the last few months/years, I have watched as new members have been welcomed into the “inner circle”. It’s been interesting to see how the newbies are accepted and integrated. These guys are probably between stages 2 and 3.
I can make observations on what made the difference between the two groups of students and the similarities I see between the Goatweb community, the faculty CoP, and the web design groupies. Even my experience with OMAET fits in… the cadre follows the same path as the groupies, more or less. I think the common denominator is time and interest… the research class was a limited time (12 weeks) and the motivations for participation were varied. The groupies and OMAET students share common goals, work on common projects, and have spent lots of time together. The question for further study becomes how to replicate something like time and interest in a short term course?