Literature Review and Synthesis: Online Communities of Practice
This literature review and synthesis aims at developing a knowledge base to inform the Ministry of Education on how to develop, implement, and maintain online communities of practice (CoPs), and how communication technologies can be used to support them. Author: Kwok Wing Lai, Keryn Pratt, Megan Anderson & Julie Stigter Published: 2006
Author(s): Kwok Wing Lai, Keryn Pratt, Megan Anderson & Julie Stigter
Date Published: 2006
Research on online CoPs is a relatively new field of research, so a broad, rather than a narrow, approach was adopted in the selection of sources. As such, both published and online publications, from New Zealand and overseas, primarily published after 2001, were reviewed as well as seminal articles published prior to 2001. Both secondary and primary sources, including conceptual, empirical, and application articles were reviewed. Due to the very short time frame available, the research team reviewed academic and professional journal articles, conference papers, and commissioned reports. In addition, books and book chapters that were considered to be seminal were reviewed. A wide variety of databases and conference proceedings were searched, as well as the Internet. The abstracts of citations were scanned and articles were selected using criteria for inclusion and exclusion as guided by the research questions. Full texts of the articles selected were read and those considered to be relevant were categorised into conceptual and empirical studies. A template was developed and adopted to annotate a number of key articles. A reliability check of a sample of annotated articles was conducted to compare the accuracy of the abstracts to the content of the articles.
In the process of undertaking this review, between February and May 2005, a number of review articles relating to online CoPs or virtual communities have been identified. We have also identified a large number of articles discussing the concept of CoPs, and their relationship to situated cognition, activity theory, professional development, and knowledge management. However, we found that the majority of the literature did not target online CoPs (Couros, 2003), and there were few empirical studies of CoPs in designed or intentional learning environments (Squire & Johnson, 2000). Also, we have found very few empirical studies on online CoPs directly relating to teaching and learning (Koh & Kim, 2003). Many of the studies adopt an organisational perspective with specific references to business and commercial sectors. While many studies were available in the literature about design issues of bilingual websites, we found no articles related to bilingual communities of practice.
Summary of Findings
|1.||Characteristics of communities of practice|
What is a community of practice?
Defining a community of practice.
Characteristics of a community of practice include:
Distinguishing communities of practice from other groupings
Communities of practice can be distinguished from other groupings in a number of ways. Communities of practice:
|2.||Characteristics of online communities of practice|
What is an online community of practice?
The evolution of Internet and Web technologies has:
An online community of practice requires more than simply transferring a community of practice to an online environment.
Distinguishing online communities of practice from co-located communities of practice
While online communities of practice share some similar characteristics with communities of practice in general, they also differ in several aspects:
Distinguishing online communities of practice from other online groupings
A number of online groups and communities exist, in addition to online communities of practice:
Online communities of practice differ from other online communities in terms of the level of collaboration and engagement.
Can communities of practice be totally supported and operated online?
An ongoing debate is whether or not communities of practice can be virtual. Two key issues raised in this debate concern:
|3.||Online communities of practice and the professional development of teachers|
Communities of practice and effective professional development
Communities of practice are central to effective teacher professional development.
Cases of effective online communities of practice
Cases of effective online communities of practice include:
Characteristics of these effective cases of online communities of practice include:
They have a clear purpose;
|4.||Life cycles of online communities of practice|
Phase 1: Formation
A variety of activities occur in the formation phase of an online community of practice:
Phase 2: Sustaining/Maturing
In the second phase, the focus is on sustaining and maturing the community of practice through a variety of means:
Phase 3: Transformation
The third phase is one of transformation or disengaging; communities of practice may experience:
|5.||Designing effective online communities of practice|
Design Principle 1: Online communities of practice should be cultivated to grow naturally
Online communities of practice are grown rather than made.
Several design strategies have been identified to cultivate the growth of online communities of practice:
Design Principle 2: Online communities of practice should be designed to support sociability and participation
Sociability and usability are key to designing online communities.
A number of strategies have been identified to support sociability and participation:
Design Principle 3: Online communities of practice should be created to attract a diverse membership
It is important to ensure that a critical mass of people belong to the online community of practice. Issues to consider in this include:
Design Principle 4: Online communities of practice should be managed by providing for different roles
There needs to be different roles within communities of practice, particularly in online communities of practice.
Design Principle 5: Online communities of practice should include t echnology designed with functionality to support sociability and knowledge sharing
As the choice of technology impacts on the community of practice, designers need to consider the:
Technology can support communities of practice in a number of ways:
Technology can be designed to be either ‘pull’ or ‘push’ in nature.
Design Principle 6: Online communities of practice require a blended approach to development where online activities are supported by offline activities
Many researchers suggest that the online activities should be supported by offline activities.
The issue of using multiple languages is complex.
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