As we start to dive into Communities of Practice, our group dissected the relationship between brick and mortar higher education and online higher education. As Ford said in “The Web Is A Customer Service Medium”, “the web is not just some kind of magic all-absorbing meta-medium. It’s its own thing.” Does this purport that online education is different from brick and mortar education? In the following two assertions, we will propose both sides of the argument. #1 will assume that both an online and brick and mortar education are the same. #2 will assume that they are different.
Argument #1: Higher education is all the same. There is minimal difference between brick and mortar and online.
- Online education is a type of boundary interaction with higher education at the core, with technology and business communities of practice as overlapping communities of practice.
- Existing as a practice within the confines of higher education’s larger community does not mean it will remain as such. As Wenger states “engineers of a supplier company and engineers of a customer company may over time create a COP that reflects deep working relations and creates an indispensable bridge between their respective practices – and between the organizations to the point of blurring allegiances (p.114).”
- Should this process occur, the online education community of practice would break away and start to exhibit the characteristics of argument #1, separate from the brick and mortar versions of higher education. Wenger cautions against this: “becoming a community of practice in its own right is a risk of boundary practices that may thwart their roles in creating connections – but this risk is also their potential.”
Argument #2: Brick and mortar higher education is NOT the same as online higher education.
- Higher education is one big community of practice that includes two smaller communities of practice within it: 1) the brick and mortar COP and 2) the online COP. In this scenario, you have brokers (students taking classes online and face-to-face or teachers teaching both types of classes) and boundary objects; the Penn State name, books used for the same classes, etc. These participants broker between the two communities to complete explicitly separate practices who rely on each other.
- The online community of practice (COP) and brick and mortar COP are two overlapping sub-communities within the higher education COP.
- Wegner discusses an “overlap” as a “practiced-based connection” (p. 115) stating this “does not require a specific boundary enterprise, but is provided by a direct and sustained overlap between two practices.” Wenger is specifically referencing two types of employees within the Alinsu community of practice, claims processors and claims technicians. Each exist in their own communities of practice with other processors and technicians respectively, but their interactions as delegations create a boundary interaction much the way that the institutional name (like Penn State for World Campus) or professors who teach both face to face (f2f) and online courses would interact with both, but separate communities of practice.
- The experience you get from each type of higher education can be quite different from one another. Where students identify themselves- as students in general or online students specifically, will help to direct in which community of practice they participate.
Brought to you by The Disruptors: Dean, Katie, and Zach