Assignment: Successful Community of Practice

We’ve all had experience working on an important project. Maybe it was one which was going to have the attention of the movers and shakers, or one which was going to decide whether we get the business. Or maybe, it was one which was going to decide our grade for the semester.

If we’ve been fortunate, what’s required for success of the project has been spelled out explicitly.  Or if it hasn’t been, we’ve been able to ask the right questions and get a clear idea of what the audience who will be judging success is looking for.

How many of us, though, have given thought to how we might communicate to the members of our online communities of practice just what they need to do to make the initiative a success? Given that the participants are often both the creators and the judges of the quality of such spaces, perhaps leaving such issues undiscussed is risky!

My pal Bryan Alexander, who is the new-tech guru at NITLE, is always on the lookout for innovative uses of technology in academia. He recently pointed us to a nifty assignment put out by Kathleen Fitzpatrick , associate professor of media and English studies at Pomona college.

Academic instructors teaching classes in the use of online media have some useful things to teach us about developing rubrics for success online.  Of course, they have the luxury of wielding the gradebook over the heads of their students. Few CoP administrators enjoy that level of authority over their audience!

Still, what if participation in our online spaces had to meet the criteria put forth here?


From MarxWiki

For the students of Media Studies/English 149:

Remember, this wiki constitutes part of your coursework for the semester. In order to receive a passing grade for this part of the course, each of you must create a minimum of 10 new entries for the wiki, and you must be an active editor of already-existing pages. That’s in order to pass: in order to get an A for this project, you must demonstrate a generous commitment to the wiki, writing entries that are not merely factually correct but also interesting and helpful, you must actively seek out ways to improve and expand upon the information contained here, and you must do all of this with an attention to quality.

That attention to quality includes the quality of your prose: accuracy of grammar, spelling, and other formal writing issues count.

If you have any questions about this project, or your involvement in it, please see me. –KF

What would it mean to the health of your CoP if each participant made 10 substantive posts in the next 13 weeks?  What if half of those were expanding upon or refining the posts of others? And wow, what if making a “generous commitment” to the CoP were rewarded with your workplace’s equivalent of an “A”?

Is your CoP an important project?  Is it worth the investment of time from each member? If it’s not, then perhaps now is just not the time for this initiative.

But if the management of your organization thinks it’s time to invest in an online CoP, perhaps making the concept of “active participation” more concrete by developing a set of assigned tasks, completion of which will be noted in the individual’s annual performance evaluation, might be one way to make clarify that contributing to the success of the CoP is not a “virtual” task, but a real one! It might also reassure your “A” members that they aren’t “talking too much” but actively contributing in a way which is deeply appreciated by their organization, and encourage your shyer ones to join in. Nothing is quicker to silence a crowd than uncertainty.  A clear understanding of what’s expected may be just the shot in the arm your CoP members need.