- 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
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:
>( DoesHaving recently taught ESL writing to a small international/immigrant
>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
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".
- 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
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
--- 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
> 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.
Do you Yahoo!?
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- --- In email@example.com, Nigel Caplan
> someone could show me the relevance of CoPs to language learning, IHi everyone,
> might be a bit less in the dark.
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
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
- 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.