Ford and Community
Ford’s post illustrates what makes the web a medium unto itself–one that can be built to facilitate and encourage worldwide access in “communities of practice”. Sites like Metafilter and Reddit are examples of success because they were able to cultivate good content from a genuine community of practice. Somewhat off-puttingly, Ford assigns blanket judgement and identifies the mechanism as self-serving superiority to what Wenger refers to as “social practice”, which echoes superiority in and of itself. Nonetheless, online learning can leverage the web’s ability to create communities of practice in higher education because it “can enable learning to happen in a variety of contexts, locations, and times; it allows for a transformation of curriculum and learning.” (Christensen et al., 2011, p. 4).
It is interesting that one of Ford’s questions possibly answered by the web doesn’t have books as an answer. The first question regarding where to go for something with elves or bombs, my first answer was books only to find that movies were the right answer. We hear you saying, “yeah but this is a question about the web, not about entertainment.” Yes. But these are questions about the web, not about the Internet (which are different, the Internet is the medium in which the Web is experienced). The web can provide us ebooks and places to order physical copies. We hear you asking why are we talking about this? Ford uses the term he coined “Gutenbourgeois,” their own community of practice, as a way of categorizing the people he considers Internet Luddites but in itself a reference to a disruptive technology in its own right, the Gutenberg Press. Ford vilifies the print media as seeing themselves as the keeper of culture’s keys and are unresponsive to the power of the Internet and the Web but Ford forgets that it is books where society and culture get a great deal of its meaning and still is a valuable source of meaning making.
At the conclusion of his article, Ford calls for a revolution for interacting with the content one shares. Grounded in the context of the publishing industry, he calls for readers to become members. The customer service experience of the web that Ford calls for is representative of how Wenger depicts a community. The first element of mutual engagement is seen when he calls for members to consult amongst themselves which allows members to negotiate meaning amongst themselves. Creating boundaries within the community of acceptable and unacceptable behavior can be seen as a joint enterprise with members within the community mutual accountability or punishment for transgressors. As the readership community continues jointly pursuing an enterprise, the shared repertoire, the third element of community, can be developed. Within the communities of writers and readers, identities of members can emerge, ways of doing things can be created and adopted, and expression of membership can be created.
By accepting the assumption that learning, specifically at the post-secondary level, is an individual process, the communities of practice that are formed and participated throughout the learning process are often overlooked. These communities of practice are of value because “we all have our own theories and ways of understanding the world, and our communities of practice are places where we develop, negotiate, and share them” (Wenger, 1998, p. 48). As members join a community and participate to varying degrees, they are able, within that community, to grapple with the explicit and implicit in experience. In his article on the changing landscape of higher education, Clay Shirky talks about the stories we tell ourselves about higher education; those stories could be implicit or explicit. Regardless, a community of practice could serve as a context to confront underlying assumptions, examine the language surrounding higher education and develop a shared world view of the purpose of higher education.
Controlling the Experience
The “niche app experience” is attractive because it’s not always about the WWIC mindset. Many would gladly pay for an app that gives them the power to pull in any form of media from any source, curate social networks, and highly customize the experience. What can make some apps/websites great is how they tap into the desire for a social component. Popular fitness apps tend to include a variety of ways to engage with the community and identity with achievements, goals, original content, sharing, and community. When the content is no longer relevant to your needs (e.g. you’ve outgrown or are bored with the same fitness videos), you can still go to the community to participate in the supportive social interaction and collective knowledge building. Apps that require you to share, rate, or comment in order to use it are trying too hard in mandating interaction and stand to lose users/customers. The same goes for those that prevent any sort of sharing or discussion, like pay-walled news sources. Unsolicited content and opinions outside of your specified circles, while being touted as a “community-driven” or “interest-based”, seems disingenuous and transparent in it being a device to profit off of their audience. The more apps/websites limit the experience of the user and their ability to be social, the more skeptical I am about it lasting.
Wenger really resonates because we can see it all around us. Adam is usually skeptical of theories like this that try to apply to everyone and everything as there are almost always holes or exceptions but Communities of Practice has so far demonstrated how it applies to everything in some capacity. The strength comes from Wenger not trying to be too dogmatic in describing conditions that would apply. Wenger often says he’s not arguing for an idealized case but that the theory or subtopic applies in any type of situation.
Initially, Adam struggled with the idea that meaning making “is at once both historical and dynamic, contextual and unique” (p.54) because it seems paradoxical but as he thought about it more and the idea of a person’s first kiss fits Wenger’s definition. Adam explains using himself as an example:
- I never kissed anyone before so I have no personal history to pull from but I have seen kissing in TV and movies so I have a general sense of what to expect. I’ve also seen people in public kiss which adds new and different ideas set of expectations. In this case, while not personal, I do have a historical context taken from media society.
- The kiss happens and in many ways fits into the historical context I had coming into it. Was I nervous like I saw in movies and TV? Yes. Was it special? Yes. Did it mean true love? No. But that’s okay. The kiss mostly fit that historical context. Was I a great kisser the very first time? Not by a long shot. But I wasn’t supposed to be because it was my first time. When I retell the story, I use that “my first time” context to describe why the kiss happened the way it did.
- The kiss was definitely unique. I can remember room we were in, I can remember how we were sitting, I can remember her perfume, and I can remember a host of other small details that make this moment unique. I would venture a guess that most of us can remember details like these from a first kiss
- Every kiss since that first one is connected through history (now personal), the context of experience, the context of who the other person is, dynamics of the emotional impact of each kiss (a routine kiss goodbye verses a kiss when reuniting after a long absence), and the uniqueness of each individual kiss. All of these components to the meaning of a kiss can change or solidify what it means to a person.