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CoP problems

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  • Nigel Caplan
    Chris (or at least one of the Chrises - I lose track) asked what what would make people hesitate about joining a CoP. Enter Nigel. Anecdote 1 : The university
    Message 1 of 4 , Feb 2, 2003
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      Chris (or at least one of the Chrises - I lose track) asked what what
      would make people hesitate about joining a CoP. Enter Nigel.

      Anecdote 1 : The university where I did my M.Ed in TESOL was very much
      into student-centered learning. Fine. We had endless classes (and some
      of them felt like they would never end) in which the "content" was
      introduced by student-led discussions. I eventually learned not to take
      these classes. There are some contexts in which transmission of
      knowledge is necessary and expected, and cannot be generated through
      negotiation by inexperienced learners. Plus, if leadership is going to
      be rotated, you have to have confidence in the leadership skills of
      everyone in the group, otherwise you're going to waste a lot of time. In
      a goal-oriented context (getting a univ degree),
      classes/communities/whatever need goals and they need to reach them.
      From your comments, I'm not sure a CoP is necessarily a good way to do
      this.

      Anecdote 2 : In my other life, I co-founded a student theatre group. Our
      initial ethos was rather CoP-like, a "company of players" without
      hierarchy (other than a director and producer for each play), no
      committees, everything decided by majority vote, etc etc. This worked
      very well for about six months when there were 20 company members and
      the same two people (the 2 co-founder) were either producing or
      directing. However, as the company grew, it became clear that "chaos
      navigation" was going to tear the group apart, and I persuaded the
      company to create one elected leadership position (a sort of chairman).
      And this has worked rather nicely. Idealism should always, in my
      opinion, give way quickly to realism.

      So, my points would be this: I would hesitate about participating in a
      CoP where there was something specific I wanted to attain, and I would
      be wary of making a commitment to a group that did not have a leader,
      with whom the buck could stop (as WiA does of course). I am no expert on
      CoPs, and have only had time to read the listserv messages, not the
      online papers, so please correct me if I'm way off track. Also, if
      someone could show me the relevance of CoPs to language learning, I
      might be a bit less in the dark.

      Off-topic now, but I have to respond to Diane's comment:
      >( Does
      >anyone else suspect that the influx of EFL. Students
      >into English language dominated Universities is
      >actually dumbing down and making writing/marking
      >standards so inflexible that originality is actively
      >discouraged?)

      Having recently taught ESL writing to a small international/immigrant
      population at a medium-sized suburban university in Philadelphia, I can
      strongly disagree with this sentiment. Our philosophy (common I believe
      with many writing programs) was to raise the standards of the ESL
      students by setting high standards and grading strictly. We teach the
      conventions and expectations of academic writing (thesis statement,
      paragraphing, citations, objectivity, etc) in order that students have
      the tools at their disposal to be competent writers and achieve success
      in their mainstream classes. By originality, I understand critical
      thinking and writing, the ability to analyze source texts, and write
      analytically about them. In our experience, the native English speakers
      had as much difficulty with this as the ESL group, and all were working
      towards this essential but complex concept. In no way could the presence
      of diversity in the student population be seen as "dumbing down".

      Nigel
    • Chris Jones
      Dear Nigel and all, Thanks for your well-explained anecdotes about problems with CoPs. I can think of a few reasons why I wouldn t stay in a CoP myself. The
      Message 2 of 4 , Feb 2, 2003
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        Dear Nigel and all,

        Thanks for your well-explained anecdotes about
        problems with CoPs.

        I can think of a few reasons why I wouldn't stay in a
        CoP myself. The first one relates to discussion lists
        such as TESL-L. I've joined various lists over the
        past six years and dropped out of almost all of them
        within a short time. I either didn't have enough
        interest to take the time to read the messages or
        there were so few messages that it didn't seem worth
        my while. I've stayed with TESLCA-L because I still
        get good tips from there and can help others from time
        to time.

        Other reasons I've dropped out is because the general
        level of discussion is way over my head, so I don't
        understand much of what's going on. I've joined techy
        groups about software, etc. and found it didn't help
        me. I suppose it was also lack of interest in getting
        into the software so deeply.

        Something I haven't run into personally is the
        arrogance of other group members. If I were treated
        like my opinions or questions were beneath the
        majority of the active members, I wouldn't stay with
        the group.

        Chris Jones

        --- Nigel Caplan <nigel@...> wrote:
        > Chris (or at least one of the Chrises - I lose
        > track) asked what what
        > would make people hesitate about joining a CoP.
        > Enter Nigel.
        >
        > Anecdote 1 : The university where I did my M.Ed in
        > TESOL was very much
        > into student-centered learning. Fine. We had endless
        > classes (and some
        > of them felt like they would never end) in which the
        > "content" was
        > introduced by student-led discussions. I eventually
        > learned not to take
        > these classes. There are some contexts in which
        > transmission of
        > knowledge is necessary and expected, and cannot be
        > generated through
        > negotiation by inexperienced learners. Plus, if
        > leadership is going to
        > be rotated, you have to have confidence in the
        > leadership skills of
        > everyone in the group, otherwise you're going to
        > waste a lot of time. In
        > a goal-oriented context (getting a univ degree),
        > classes/communities/whatever need goals and they
        > need to reach them.
        > From your comments, I'm not sure a CoP is
        > necessarily a good way to do
        > this.
        >
        > Anecdote 2 : In my other life, I co-founded a
        > student theatre group. Our
        > initial ethos was rather CoP-like, a "company of
        > players" without
        > hierarchy (other than a director and producer for
        > each play), no
        > committees, everything decided by majority vote, etc
        > etc. This worked
        > very well for about six months when there were 20
        > company members and
        > the same two people (the 2 co-founder) were either
        > producing or
        > directing. However, as the company grew, it became
        > clear that "chaos
        > navigation" was going to tear the group apart, and I
        > persuaded the
        > company to create one elected leadership position (a
        > sort of chairman).
        > And this has worked rather nicely. Idealism should
        > always, in my
        > opinion, give way quickly to realism.
        >
        > So, my points would be this: I would hesitate about
        > participating in a
        > CoP where there was something specific I wanted to
        > attain, and I would
        > be wary of making a commitment to a group that did
        > not have a leader,
        > with whom the buck could stop (as WiA does of
        > course). I am no expert on
        > CoPs, and have only had time to read the listserv
        > messages, not the
        > online papers, so please correct me if I'm way off
        > track. Also, if
        > someone could show me the relevance of CoPs to
        > language learning, I
        > might be a bit less in the dark.


        __________________________________________________
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      • Vance Stevens <vstevens@emirates.net.ae>
        ... wrote: Also, if ... Hi everyone, I just had a good night s sleep after our stimulating webcam and voice enabled chat session last night. I
        Message 3 of 4 , Feb 2, 2003
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          --- In evonline2002_webheads@yahoogroups.com, Nigel Caplan
          <nigel@d...> wrote:
          Also, if
          > someone could show me the relevance of CoPs to language learning, I
          > might be a bit less in the dark.

          Hi everyone,

          I just had a good night's sleep after our stimulating webcam and
          voice enabled chat session last night. I have just uploaded my
          screen shots to our Files section. I created a folder 030202 where
          you can find 11 jpg images. The folder name is a convention I have
          developed for year 03 month 02 date 02 (that way the folders will
          sort chronologically). I invite anyone else with screen shots to
          upload to appropriate folders.

          Before plunging into Week 3 I would like to address Nigel's question
          regarding relevance of CoPs to language learning. I have already
          posted to this list evidence (I think) of how members of our online
          Writing for Webheads have operated as a CoP in the past (and this is
          a group of language learners and teachers). I won't repeat that here.

          But more practically speaking, my last few Arabic classes have been
          organized essentially as CoPs. I have long ago (for my own purposes)
          given up on the idea of traditional language courses except for
          absolute beginners in a language (which is when it helps to learn
          something of the structure of a language). The Arabic courses I have
          organized since then have always had just two components. One is a
          teacher who serves as facilitator and informant. This teacher can
          put aside his/her ideas of 'teaching' grammar and vocabulary. The
          second component is a group of students who agree that when meeting
          in the class they will interact purely in the target language. The
          teacher and students then both bring materials to the class. For
          example, I might record off the radio or pick up a newspaper on my
          way to class, or even create a web page on a topic with links to
          Arabic sites that we can explore in class (Arabic songs are a good
          example of this). With all teachers and students working to
          contribute in this way to the course materials, we in effect form a
          community of practice where all collaborate on the content of the
          class, scaffold each other, and have fun. Even if you want to
          discuss grammar, as long as you do it in the target language, that's
          fair game.

          This has informed my teaching as well. In one class I was teaching
          in Oman my students had to prepare presentations in English. When
          they complained this was too difficult I offered to model the first
          presentation, only in Arabic. To prepare, I did it in my Arabic
          group first. Essentially we discussed the topic I was to present
          (just a conversation, on the UN). Did I mention I would typically
          record these sessions (and play the tapes back on long road trips)?
          From the tape, I fine tuned the vocab I would need. After I gave my
          presentation in class my students could hardly complain about doing
          the same in English.

          Ok, off to read the flurry of postings while I was sleeping, and I'll
          work up a drum roll for Week 3 shortly (or have I missed that
          already).

          Vance
        • Christopher Johnson
          Hi Nigel and everyone, Nigel brought up some very interesting points about CoPs. Are they a panacea? Do they have problems? What are they strengths and
          Message 4 of 4 , Feb 6, 2003
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            Hi Nigel and everyone,

            Nigel brought up some very interesting points about CoPs. Are they a panacea? Do they have problems? What are they strengths and drawbacks?

            If Nigel is willing, it would be useful to address some of the concerns that Nigel brought up next week in Week 4.

            Stay tuned,

            Chris
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