Networks of Practice (NoPs)

At first, I intended to link this case study to Communities of Practice. The term Community of Practice was first coined by Lave and Wenger (1991) to mean a set of relations among persons, activities over time and in relation with other communities of practice. Communities of Practice are “groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis.” (Wenger et al. 2002, p.4; TEL2 assignment p. 9)

After discussion with my peers and further reflection on the concept of CoPs, I concluded that

  • CPD through Twitter does not necessarily have a shared and situated context of the educators involved.
  • And although Twitter adds value to the professional practice of teachers there is not enough co-ownership with specific goals linked to the professional practice of teachers, to talk about CoPs.
  • Moreover, the learning is not entirely situated in the teachers’ everyday school practice.

The notion of Networks of Practice (NoPs, Brown & Duguid, 2001) on the other hand focuses on facilitating information exchange between individuals with practice related goals (Brown, 2000), and not so much on the shared practical sets of problems.

While they acknowledge some difficulties with the term, Brown and Duguid (2001) prefer to talk about these loose networks as epistemic groups that enable knowledge to flow freely. The relations among participants are “significantly looser than those within a community of practice. Most people in such a network will never know, know of, or come across one another. And yet they are capable of sharing a great deal of knowledge.” (Brown & Duguid, 2001, p. 205).

Although I’ve experienced from first hand that people are also capable of establishing real-life connections through Twitter, these weak ties remain a typical characteristic of the social medium. Peripheral events of knowledge being shared on Twitter can cause ripples in the professional practice of teachers that might reach right to the centre of their organisation. The data from this research acknowledges that activities through Twitter still have a hard time shifting to the center of the professional practice. The individual teacher is able to connect to the periphery but better ways to move Twitter to the center of CPD is desirable, and will need further investigation and managerial development. “One of the basic challenges for organisations is to utilise these network tools for probing the periphery without making them a distraction from the business at hand.” (Brown, 2004, p. 149)

The following video exemplifies the difference between the two notions.

Brown and Duguid continue to explore the paradox between sticky and leaky knowledge, and conclude (2001) that the perspective of practice does the task. “Practice creates the common substrate.” (Brown & Duguid, 2001, p. 205).

They elaborate further on the issue of knowledge and practice from the perspective of Polyani, Strauss and Knorr Cetina, but in the context of this case study I take up the concept of Networks of Practice as the vehicle that drives a more inspirational type of CPD. Although I realise that the link with the actual practice of teachers is preferrable and necessary, it would need more investigation, study and research to reveal the actual impact of Twitter on the workfloor of teachers. During individual interviews participants indicated being inspired through Twitter but the actual transfer to the classroom practice was harder to illustrate. This points into the direction of a gap between the inspirational nature of Twitter and the actual change of behavior in front of the classroom. Clearly this would be an area of improvement in the professional development of teachers through Twitter (see Discussion section).

> Some background information and research on about Twitter.