Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Interacting with Etienne Wenger

In terms of my own doctoral experience, Monday 11 July 2005 proved to be a highly eventful and significant day, given extensive interaction with Etienne Wenger and groups of individuals from a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences in three seminars conducted at the ANU. Clearly, it is possible to pursue many aspects of my lived experience on that day—cognitive, pedagogical, social, cultural and so on—and I may well do so at a later date. In the short term, however, I am using this post as a means of reflecting critically on the organisational dimension in relation to my own candidature.

The context associated with these events is noteworthy. I had been introduced to Etienne’s work on situated learning, Legitimate Peripheral Participation (LPP) and Communities of Practice (CoP), at the commencement of my candidature (March, 2004). Much of this resonated with my own theory and practice of learning and teaching. Twelve months later, when I was in the process of setting up this blog, I stumbled across Etienne’s website; became a member of CPSquare (a global network of those interested in CoP); and established these as hyperlinks on my blog (April, 2005).

I emailed Etienne with details of my research expressing my interest in his social theory of learning, and its potential application to an aspect of doctoral education (May 2005). During our initial email exchanges it transpired that he would be coming to Australia in July as a keynote presenter at a Knowledge Management Conference in Sydney (i.e. 13 July). I then raised with him the possibility of conducting a seminar in Canberra for people familiar with his work to coincide with his visit.

He mentioned that Shawn Callahan, Director, Anecdote Pty Ltd, (Melbourne) was also interested in organising an activity, so I contacted him, who in turn put me in touch with Mark Schenk, Director, Dialogue Pty Ltd (Canberra)—both of whom work in the area of knowledge management. To cut a long story short, I established a small interest group comprising Shawn, Mark and a couple of colleagues at the ANU (e.g. CEDAM, NGSM), to organise a series of activities that included seminars with academics and doctoral candidates from ANU, UC and UTS (15); specialists in knowledge management from the public and private sector (10); an invitational seminar for a general audience (60).

Reflecting on this experience, I am struck by a number of factors:

1. EFFICIENCY—the entire exercise was negotiated and planned electronically and executed in just over two months—a very short period of time to engage an international expert with 80 local practitioners.

2. TRUST—Etienne, Shawn, Mark and myself would not meet in person until Monday 11 July—so a high level of trust was established on the part of all stakeholders during the planning stage (Shawn and Mark were the only group members who had met face-to-face and had worked together previously).

3. CONVERGENCE—the theory of CoP was enacted in practice in several ways during this exercise—especially in relation to the convergence of experience, competence and technology.

4. IMPACT—it was interesting to observe the pre-existing level of awareness about CoP in Canberra across education, management (e.g. knowledge, information, business), health and environment sectors—to mention just a few—along with a desire for ongoing dialogue. It was also possible to detect a ‘ripple effect’ emerging over a coffee or a glass of wine in a number of conversations that followed each seminar.

There are additional issues pertaining to the identity, status and performance of a contemporary doctoral candidate. For example:

—How should my own role in this exercise be interpreted? Does it reflect positive skills and attributes such as ‘enterprise’ and ‘creativity’, or can it be regarded as merely ‘opportunistic’ and ‘self-serving’?

—In terms of the contemporary PhD, do such exercises constitute peripheral or mainstream developmental activity? Where and how are they positioned in the learning/research/training/work/career interface?

—To what extent are other enrolled PhD candidates using technology, enterprise and collaboration in similar (and different) ways?

—How useful is it to record aspects of one’s own lived experience as a doctoral candidate, and what is the most effective mechanism for doing so (e.g. blog, website, narrative, refereed journal, thesis)?

A few comments to wrap up. From a personal perspective, this was a highly stimulating, challenging and rewarding series of activities. Experience in organising similar professional learning programs gained during my career proved to be very useful. I have little doubt that the level of networking established during this exercise will be extended in future in ways that are yet to be determined. My current view is that blogging provides a unique opportunity to record particular aspects of my doctoral experience; to seek complementary perspectives (e.g. from those who participated in this experience); and to facilitate other feedback (e.g. from enterprising PhD candidates in other areas of research).

Monday, July 04, 2005

Global Dialogue on Blogging

I have been following with interest the Social Sciences Online: Past, Present and Future initiative of the Social Science Information Gateway SOSIG. Four themes were explored over a couple of weeks, namely, Learning and Teaching, Research Methods, Access to Data and E-Social Science. A total of twelve short papers were uploaded with a view to generating discussion. At the end of this exercise:
- 3 papers generated 0 comments
- 5 papers generated 1-4 comments
- 2 papers generated 5-8 comments
- 2 papers generated 9-12 comments.
One of the papers entitled "What are the potential uses of blogs in teaching and learning?" by Andy Ramsden from the University of Bristol, generated 10 comments. While much of the online discussion centred on differences between blogs and discussion boards, the main focus for many respondents appeared to be teaching, rather than learning or research.

As with the SOSIG initiative, a quick scan of PhD Weblogs reveals that there is considerable variation with regard to current ratios pertaining to hits, posts and comments. What significance can be attributed to such quantitative measures in the blogosphere (e.g. patterns associated with hits, posts and comments)? What are the primary motivations for surfing, writing and responding? What are the distinguishing features of blogs that are demonstrating high levels of engagement?