What type of professional development programming would give educators the opportunity to visit a content-rich museum, become part of an authentic community of like-minded professionals, and design curriculum that engages their students in real-world learning outside the classroom?
Communities of Practice
“Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”
—Social learning theorist Etienne Wenger
As Wenger defines it, communities of practice must contain three characteristics:
- A domain – Members of a community of practice identify with and feel committed to a shared domain of interest.
- The Community – The community is a network of individuals who work toward the same domain of interest, engaging in discussions, sharing knowledge, and developing meaningful relationships.
- The Practice – The community’s practice is their sustained interaction, through which they develop a shared collection of resources.
MLI at the NPM Teacher Leaders Program
The MLI at the NPM (National Postal Museum) Teacher Leaders program seeks to provide participants with the opportunity to become part of a community of other educators who understand the integral role that new media plays in enhancing the learning experience. Communities of practice are central to the program components in the following ways:
- Domain – New media for learning at the museum.
- The Community – Teacher teams from various middle and high schools convene at the National Postal Museum to engage in activities and discussions around how to merge the exhibits and collections with innovative new-media practices that enrich the learning experience for their students. They publish, share, and collaborate via a social learning network.
- The Practice – An integral aspect of the MLI at the NPM Teacher Leaders program is the process by which these communities of practice grow over time. As the program progresses, the cohorts of curriculum designers and teacher advisors grow, thereby expanding the collective network.
In the next entry, we’ll take a look at one of the NPM Teacher Leaders programs, weDesign Learning, from the perspective of a practitioner who helped design and execute the program.
Additional Resources on Communities of Practice
- Wenger, E. (2006). Communities of Practice: A Brief Introduction
- Wenger, E., McDermott, R. and Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge – Seven Principles for Cultivating Communities of Practice. Harvard Business School Press.
- Communities of Practice. Infed.org.