Virtual Community of Practice: Build it and they have a Place to Come
Virtual Communities of Practice (VCoP) have been described by Gannon-Leary and Fontainha (2007) as a network of practitioners who share a domain of interest and resources such as experiences, problems and solutions, tools, and methodologies online. They suggest this sharing advances the knowledge of each participant in the community and the knowledge within the domain. This implies opportunities to use technology to support sharing between participants. Yet as Shirky (2002) argues, although the virtual community is made possible by software, we need to think of communities as growing and not as being built, as what makes a community worthwhile is provided by its participants for each other. Indeed, while participant interaction is seen as valuable in the success of VCoPs, and can be manifested through the level of participation (Chan, Bhandar, On and Chan, 2004), phenomena such as under-contributing and lurking are typical to virtual communities (Mao, Vassileva, and Grassmann, 2007). This leads to questions such as “What design consideration will foster the forming and sustaining a VCoP?” and “What motivates participants to engage and share in VCoPs?” This paper will discuss practical and theoretical ideas for developing an environment conducive to forming and sustaining a non-commercial VCoP in the domain of researching Distance Education.
Keywords: Communities of Practice, Environments, Interactivity, Usability, Distance Education
Dr. Philip Watland
Senior Researcher, Center for Distance Education, Athabsca University