#CCK11 Mesh Networks and Communities of Practice

Relating to the networks configuration, here is an article on COP by Etienne C. Wenger and William M. Snyder

[PDF] from itu.dk

Wenger and Snyder writes:

The participants in these communities were learning together by focusing on problems, that were directly related to their work.  In the short term, this made their work easier or more effective; in the long term, it helped build both their communities and their shared practices – thus developing capabilities critical to the continuing success of the organizations.
The strength of communities of practice is self perpetuating.  As they generate knowledge, they reinforce and renew themselves.  That’s why communities give you not only the gold eggs, but also the goose that lays them.  The farmer killed the goose to get all the gold and ended up losing both; the challenge for organization is to appreciate the goose and to understand how to keep it alive and productive.

photos: from a post

Communities of practice could be a highly effective means (or strategic practice) in promoting a learning culture within organisational settings (like inter-connected or cross functional teams or communities), and within institutions in particular.  How about its application in networks?  How would COPs relate to Connectivism, or Networked Learning?  These are the areas of interests that I would like to explore.
photos: Flickr
Here is a conversation with Ken on Education, Power and Networks, and COPs.
  1. …watching the Ken Robinson video – he is a good entertainer. While watching I had a thought that networked learning (Connectivist-style) might be more of the same factory learning – again a drowning out of the ‘star’ students in order to flatten the network and make a mesh. I wonder if it is possible to diverge from or within the mesh network? I understand that an argument is attempted to posit diversity in a mesh network, but with a homogeneity of nodes in the mesh, how does one distinguish and observe diversity? Does diversity, in the context of a mesh network, really mean diversity or is it more a uniformity of voice, where everyone has the same amount of voice and connectivity, a collectivist non-diversity that prohibits any specific voice from arising, permitting only a collective voice to emerge from this network?

    Meshed networks for learning is starting to sound like a desert place, a space where life is tough and the diversity of networks is limited to, well, meshed networks. Diversity can be seen as a condition of changeability, something a distributive network is good at producing in its cascade phenomenon, yet in Connectivism, this type of change is not valued. So, diversity is valued, within a mesh network, yet a diversity of networks, is not valued. hmmmm….

    But I digress. Better to have the network anaesthetize my thinking, I suppose. What’s new is old, what’s up is down…

  2. Hi Ken,

    Great that you bring this up. I don’t think there is simple solution – as to which sort of networks rings supreme. Is diversity the same as democracy? May be without diversity, the network would become one voice, or the loudest would likely overpower the weaker voices, or those with voices would then remain silent because of the power present. May be the stars are needed at different times of human evolution, as revealed through our Saviour, and the various bright leaders to “save” the world from extinction. How such networks would evolve could likely be the result of self-organisation of the agents, and though there are super-nodes, invisible hands, and strange attractors always changing the shape and direction of the networks, the ones that a mesh network may survive and thrive longer could be those where democracy is manifested, and so is its ability to maintain a power balance – where power law takes on a different shape…

  3. Ken AndersonMarch 5, 2011 at 2:34 pm | | Edit

    Hi John. Well said by you. I wonder what is the shape of power in a mesh network? If it is democratic, then power might be in the hands of a majority, or a plurality? Hopefully the minorities have voice too. Yes, I was thinking of Christ and other stars. How would these arise in a mesh network?

  4. Hi Ken,

    Would this power in a mesh network be revealed in our society through different ways and patterns? In certain networks such as a community or group having distinct leaders or features members leading the community (both formal and informal leaders) then likely there are power distribution like 1-9-90 or 10-20-70 etc. Would such be a combination of star superimposed in a distributive network? But then when the network evolves, different members may take up the leadership position at different times, causing a re-shaping of the network, and within such distributive networks, there could be further small groups (the distributed network where the power needs to be in balance to be efficient, likely in the form of teams – like 1 on 1 or 1 on 1 on 1, that is 2 in a team, or 3 in team). This may be what happens in a conversation like what I think we are learning and sharing together, if you agree :) So, the interests within small groups could be slightly different from a large group and so on, where the community of practice is shaped by these small groups when the groups and communities co-evolve. Would this be the reason why most researches could only identify the forest (the COP), BUT not the groups inside (as the groups – where some may be interacting privately, or in closed spaces, whilst others are lurker groups or individuals) may remain silent, or forming closed bonds with each other, and may or may not associate themselves that strongly when their interests diverge from the COP?

    I am convinced of the merits of COP as proposed by Wenger, and the strong momentum of community learning carried through by and with the networks of COPs. These sort of stimulation towards educational changes and creation of more COPs (could be viewed as part of educational reforms, if not transformation) would propel the community to explore improvement and innovative practices through the involvement, participation and contribution of the collective actions of the members and COPs. Would these be the seeds of local and virtual global COPs within communities or networks?

    The challenges of COPs are however, due to the power tension between organisational setting and the formal or informal COPs, which derive their powers from their constituent members. As mentioned earlier, the COPs recommended actions or resolutions would only act as local “forces” or power to changes when members learned and work with those others in the vicinity or via virtual networks. So, would the actions stop there? Or would the actions spread out further to influence other COPs and the institutions (education authorities, HE, business organisations, industry and professional associations) etc? There are political factors and power issues which seem to be inherent in such COPs formation, development and evolution. Besides, lots of COPs may be based on the sponsorship of government or professional bodies, or institutions, or scholars or entrepreneurs, or private charity associations. These post significant pressure on the need of a focussed vision and missions, rather than a multi-vision or mission as envisaged in networks. A significant example is the funding arrangement of the sponsors for the COPs. Often, when the funding stops, the activities of the COPs would slow down, and so members of COPs have to resort to other means to re-activate the COP. Power in this case would relate to funding (money, or sponsorships) and political position (what it stands for in the society, and the influences they have on the institutions).

    That also explains why so many COPs have a limited lifespan, and that either they have to transform themselves into a different sort of COP, or they have to evolve into one where the power influence could be exercised more locally, to actually reap the benefits for the members and community.

    Finally, I think it is worthwhile to explore the Networked Learning basing on Communities of Practice AND Connectivism in an institution AND business or industry setting.  I think we would miss a lot of learning from our past COPs, in particular.  And if we don’t understand COPs good enough, it would be equally difficult to consider or implement Connectivism or PLENK in business or industry settings.

    The urge for more discourse and practical applications with Connectivism and PLENK was revealed in my research into Design and Delivery of MOOC – PLENK.

    How would we be able to leverage the merits of COPs with Connectivsm?  Or is it feasible to consider these “together”? Why/Why not?

    What are your experiences in COPs in your institution?


4 thoughts on “#CCK11 Mesh Networks and Communities of Practice

  1. Pingback: #CCK11 Power, Accountability underpinning Networked Learning | Learner Weblog

  2. Pingback: #Change11 Engagement in MOOC and Community of Practice | Learner Weblog

  3. Pingback: #Change11 On MOOC – my reflection Part 4 | Learner Weblog

  4. Pingback: The c MOOC as knowledge ecologies | Learner Weblog

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