Working as a teacher puts an individual in the midst of an ancient profession where being on the cutting edge of technology and planning for the future can make you a more successful educator. Using CoPs and PLCs are also ideas that are dually ancient and cutting edge.
CoPs, or Communities of Practice, are groups of people who focus on doing things together and practically applying the knowledge between them(Communication Points, 2012). As far back as the craft itself, professionals of like crafts have collaborated to share insight with one another to deepen the group’s overall expertise.
In the age of digital technology, online education, and social media, the idea of collaborating with a group to improve the level of expertise takes on a new meaning. With the increase of students learning in online communities steadily on the rise, there is an increased need to establish CoPs so as people learn individually, they also have a place to come together, identify, contribute to, and develop meaning as a group member (Conrad, 2008). This adds meaning to the learning and deepens the learners understanding. As a teacher, clearly banding together with other teachers within a department, content area, or school allows the group to benefit from the various expertise of each individual as they all work towards a common goal. Technology, including online collaborative tools, allow groups to work together in ways that are easier (with tools like Google Docs and other living word processing documents), seamlessly connected (with tools like Dropbox or Google Drive), and easily shared (with online binders like Livebinder or Symbaloo, or with blogs, social media, or video). Research from 2010 collaboration even points to social bookmarking on sites like del.icio.us as a way to use technology to establish CoPs with like-minded individuals(Huang, Yang, Huang, & Hsiao, 2010).
Meanwhile PLCs, or Personal Learning Communities, are more focused on the learning within the group (Communication Points, 2012). Whereas the CoPs look more to a collaboration for a greater good, PLCs are more self-centered. They are individually used to collaborate with others as a means on enhancing one’s own knowledge. “Social network tools like wikis and blogs can help build communities through dialogue and conversation…”(Gunawardena, Hermans, Richmond, Bohley, & Tuttle, 2009). Ultimately, though, the goal is individual success, learning, and understanding rather than group success. As is well known, learning through teaching is one of the most effective ways to cement knowledge. As such, blogging and using wikis and websites to share knowledge can be an effective way to deepen personal understanding as a teacher.
Both PLCs and CoPs have a place in an educator’s toolbox. History has shown us that collaboration fosters a deeper understanding and more effective delivery of our craft. Fortunately for us, we live in a day where technology makes that collaboration easier and allow PLCs to help us learn and CoPs to help us apply our knowledge.
Now the question we all need to ask… Isn’t it time we rethink teaching and learning?
How do we imbed the idea of collaborative learning, CoPs, and PLCs into the classrooms of today so the leaders and learners or tomorrow have the skills to use these tools seamlessly?
Communication Points. (2012). National Center and State Collaborative. Retrieved from http://www.ncscpartners.org/Media/Default/PDFs/COP-Newsletters/NCSC-Newsletter-Volume-3.pdf
Conrad, D. L. (2008). From Community to Community of Practice: Exploring the Connection of Online Learners to Informal Learning in the Workplace. The American Journal of Distance Education, 22, 3-23. doi: DOI: 10.1080/08923640701713414
Gunawardena, C. N., Hermans, M. B., Richmond, D. S., Bohley, M., & Tuttle, R. (2009). A theoretical framework for building online communities of practice with social networking tools. Educational Media International, 46(1), 3-16.
Huang, J. J. S., Yang, S. J. H., Huang, Y.-M., & Hsiao, I. Y. T. (2010). Social Learning Networks: Build Mobile Learning Networks Based on Collaborative Services. Educational Technology & Society, 13(3), 78-92.
All Photos Courtesy of Microsoft Office