Value Creation in Communities of Practice – further insights

I first wrote about the Value Creation Framework when I attended last year’s BEtreat in Grass Valley, California (2011) – see Value Creation in Communities of Practice

This year (Academic BEtreat 2012 ) the value creation framework has again been a topic for discussion, with the added advantage of having a few participants who are using it or planning to use it.  It was a useful discussion, which has further informed my thinking and practice; I am currently working on a project in which we are using the value creation framework to inform our approach to knowledge management in a third sector organization.

The key points for me were:

There has been a tendency (at least in my mind) to confuse value creation with evaluation. The term evaluation is not helpful in this context as it brings with it notions of assessment. I say this despite the fact that both the words ‘evaluation’ and ‘assessment’ are used on the Wenger-Trayner website.

The focus of the value creation framework on storytelling and indicators of value creation (a matrix of indicators and stories) is designed to explore what counts as value in a community of practice. The matrix is the key element of the framework.

Value Creation Matrix

(click on the image to enlarge)

Whilst some quantitative data is collected through the use of the value creation framework (e.g. website statistics as an indicator of immediate value in Cycle 1), much of the framework focuses on collecting qualitative data though story telling in answer to questions such as ‘What activities have you participated in and how has this participation changed your practice?’ or ‘What were the key things that happened that made a difference?’ Stories answer the ‘so what’ question.

My perception is that the process of collecting stories is not that easy to manage, unless it is part of a research project and the stories can be collated and analysed by a research assistant. Analysing stories is a skilled job and begs the question of who will do this in an organization without a researcher.

A number of stories will be needed to validate value creation at a collective level and this will generate a lot of data. It will also require a lot of ‘man hours’, since the story collection process will ideally involve 3 people – the person telling the story, the person responsible for drawing the story out, and the recorder. Value can of course be collected at the individual level, but this is unlikely to impress stakeholders and funders. We need to convince stakeholders and funders and maybe even the senior management team that story telling is not just ‘qualitative fluff’. The value creation matrix combines qualitative and quantitative data with causality trails between indicators. The only people who know and understand the causality links are the storytellers themselves. Thinking of stories as causal trails is more likely to lead to rigorous analysis of the stories.

Stories can also be about ‘lack of value’ and these will be just as valuable.

The value creation framework can be used both prospectively and retrospectively. It’s the negotiation of indicators of value creation in each cycle that is important. These indicators may be emergent and come through in the process of telling a story, e.g. an emerging indicator in Cycle 5 might be the renegotiation of what is viewed as success (an aspirational story), which might happen in an appraisal or performance review process. This would help to shift the appraisal process from being a vertical one to being a transversal one (see Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner’s slide – ‘Vertical and Horizontal Accountability – the need for transversality’ – in my last blog post about Social Learning Capability

Negotiation of indicators is critical to the success of the value creation process. In the negotiation of indicators stakeholders should clarify why an indicator is important.

Examples of indicators

(click on the image to enlarge)

 The following two stories illustrate why the negotiation of indicators is important and how inappropriate use of indicators can be misleading.

  1. Surgeons in New York were graded on the mortality rate of patients – but knowing this, surgeons would aim to achieve a high grade by turning away patients they couldn’t save.
  2. Russian shoe-makers were graded on the number of shoes they could make out of the least amount of leather. They responded by focusing on making Size 5 shoes which led to a shortage in larger sizes.

The value creation framework should be adapted to suit different communities of practice. Indicators of value creation may be unique to the community.

The framework should hopefully become a tool for reflection both at the individual and collective level – a dynamic tool for reflecting on learning capability and optimizing learning.

The number of case studies of how the value creation framework is being used appears to be increasing. The next challenge will be to prove to funders and stakeholders, through the analysis of the stories/data, that the time spent in applying the value creation framework has been well spent.

Social Learning Capability

In the Academic BEtreat that I recently attended online and which I have been blogging about for a few days now (#betreat12) Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner, shared their most thinking around the idea of social learning capability. This is ongoing work. Etienne first wrote about it in 2009  – Essays on Social Learning Capability 

My understanding of social learning capability from the discussions in the Academic BEtreat is that the ideas initially arose from a recognition that many communities of practice exist with little question of whether they are increasing the learning capability of the community.

In addition, as the affordances of Web 2.0 increase the possibilities of working across boundaries of communities of practice, the landscapes of practice of communities and across communities has become very complex. There is a need to look at the social learning capability of the whole system – to start thinking systematically.

‘Taking such a systemic view is especially critical at a time when global challenges are placing unprecedented demands on our ability to learn together. Developing social learning capability across sectors may be urgent, but it is still an elusive aspiration. We need a social discipline of learning.

Making sense of social learning capability is the great challenge of learning theory in the 21st century.’ (http://wenger-trayner.com/resources/social-learning-capability/)

Considering the work of communities of practice as a landscape of practice working within and across landscapes of practice brings with it many challenges, since very few people can see the whole landscape. We are always local, always on the hills of the landscape, always in the practice. But it will become increasingly necessary to work across landscapes of practice, as communities of practice cross borders and boundaries to work together.

A complex landscape

One of the biggest challenges is in the tensions that exist between vertical and horizontal accountability in the system. This is an inherent geographical problem since we can only connect with a certain number of people. So accountability is on both dimensions, but the relationship between them is often dysfunctional. The horizontal has to be negotiated with the vertical and recent work by Etienne and Bev suggests that there is a need for transversality i.e. people, process, practices and objects that can increase the visibility of the horizontal into the vertical and vice versa.

Vertical and horizontal accountability

The vertical is not demonised in this thinking. It serves a different function, and as shown in the diagram there is the horizontal in all levels of the vertical. Currency in the vertical is often measures/numbers because these travel easily from one practice to another and it is sometimes necessary to verticalise a discussion because it simplifies things and saves time on negotiation. A dysfunctional community, which is not increasing social learning capability, may need verticalisation. But in the horizontal, numbers and measures can ‘mess things up’ and the cost of verticalising accountability is in innovation.

Critical to transversality will be our ability to act as learning citizens and social artists.

‘Learning capability – or the ability to learn – is a paradoxical aspiration because learning by itself does not guarantee learning capability. Sometimes being successful at learning is precisely what prevents you from learning the next thing. When applied to social systems, learning capability depends on the learning capability of individuals, but in the context of the structure of the system in which they live. Networking, convening new social learning spaces, brokering across boundaries, acting as learning citizens and social artists – these are the kinds of interventions that have the potential to increase social learning capability at a systemic level.’
(http://wenger-trayner.com/resources/social-learning-capability/)

Social learning spaces….

‘……enable genuine interactions among participants, who can bring to the learning table both their experience of practice and their experience of themselves in that practice.’ (http://wenger-trayner.com/resources/social-learning-spaces/)

Learning citizens know how to engage in social learning spaces, know when to disengage from a learning space and move on, know how to work across boundaries and between spaces and know how to convene a community of practice.

Social artists know how to open learning spaces and invite learning citizenship. They are social yet intentional, collaborative yet wilful, idealistic yet pragmatic. (see http://wenger-trayner.com/all/social-artists/ and Wenger, E. (2009). Social learning capability Four essays on innovation and learning in social systems)

I have written about social artists before – Social Artistry – a new idea? , but I now realise that it makes more sense to think about social artistry in terms of networking rather than teaching.

But social learning capability is about more than just networking. A social theory of learning is about identity, meaning and practice. In this sense it differs from connectivism or networked learning. Learning citizenship, social artistry and increasing social learning capability have an ethical dimension and a different view of the landscape of practice.

(Images from Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner)

A Social Theory of Learning, Schools and Landscapes of Practice

The title of the introductory chapter in Etienne Wenger’s 1998 book is ‘A social theory of learning’ – not ‘A social learning theory’.  Does this slight change in order of the words make a difference? I think it probably does.

There was an interesting discussion at the Academic Betreat about the relationship between theory, practice and learning. Whilst theory, practice and learning are closely entwined, I came away from the BEtreat reminded that I have always used theory to ‘inform’ my existing practice, rather than use theory to ‘form’ my practice. This question of which comes first, theory or practice, has often been the subject of discussion in my teaching career and particularly when I was a teacher trainer. Should we teach trainee teachers about learning theories before we send them into school and let them loose on children, or should we send them into school and engage them in practice, before we introduce them to learning theories?  If we believe that meaning making is grounded in practice and identity, which in turn is ongoing and never perfect, then the latter would be seem to be the better option.

A social theory of learning is based on a belief that learning is social and is driven by meaningful membership of a community of practice. So another question that was raised in the Academic BEtreat was  – is a school classroom a community of practice?

This led to an interesting discussion. A school classroom is not a community of practice – it’s a piece of institutional design, a space in which a community of practice might grow. A school classroom and the school itself are landscapes of practice, within landscapes of practice, in the sense that communities of practice are people sharing their practice around an identified domain.

‘As communities of practice differentiate themselves and also interlock with each other, they constitute a complex social landscape of shared practice, boundaries, peripheries, overlaps, connections, and encounters’ ………. ‘the texture of continuities and discontinuities of this landscape is defined by practice, not by institutional affiliation…….’ (p.118 Wenger, E. 1998. Communities of Practice. Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge University Press)

Within a classroom there will be different communities of practice, and the school will be located within a landscape of different communities of practice. A classroom is a social learning space. Thinking of it like this, as a learning space within learning spaces, rather than questioning whether or not it is a community of practice leads us to think about what this learning space might offer and the teacher’s role in this.

Will the teacher be able to motivate children to learning? Will the teacher create learning spaces for children with different learning styles? Will the teacher create a learning environment where children can discover themselves as learners? Teachers’ interventions will be different if they take on a social learning approach and will be affected by the other theories that they might ‘plug and play’ into the social theory of learning – such as motivation theory or learning styles which are not in the social theory of learning.

A teacher’s intervention will also be affected by their role. ‘Role’ is not a technical term in the social theory of learning, but a given role does have an affect on identity and might even conflict with identity. ‘Role’ is a reified function. Reifying a role is not always a good thing as you then have to live up to the role. Reification is a powerful tool and like all powerful tools is a dangerous one. It is always a simplification. The problem arises when it takes over. The danger of reification is when it gets removed from the practice – a salutory message for teachers.

So my thinking at this point in time, just after the Academic BEtreat, is that we don’t need to think about classrooms in terms of labelling them as communities of practice or not. It’s more useful to think about them as learning spaces in landscapes of practice, in which social participation as a process of learning can be facilitated through the components of meaning, practice, community and identity (p.5 Wenger, E. 1998. Communities of Practice. Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge University Press)

07-08-12 Postscript

I am still processing my Academic BEtreat experience and in doing this came across this recent video of Etienne speaking to PGCE students at Manchester University. It covers some of the ideas I have reported from BEtreat discussions in this and other posts.

Etienne at his best 🙂

Academic Betreat – The Work of Identity

I had hoped that we would discuss identity at the Academic BEtreat and I wasn’t  disappointed. What I hadn’t expected was that my own identity would become such a focus of my learning on the BEtreat.

In the 21st century the work of building an identity is greater than ever before. Identity is a negotiated expression of the self and these days there are so many landscapes and communities in which to do this, particularly for the young. In the past learners did not have so many choices or spaces in which to negotiate their identity and there were not the same opportunities to change jobs. Once a blacksmith, always a blacksmith, just like your father and your grandfather before you.  These days we have to manage multiple trajectories all at once. It’s hard work.

But does this mean we have multiple identities or just one identity. In our discussions we were divided on this. Some felt that we have just one identity, but that we behave differently in different contexts and that some parts of your identity come to the surface in different situations. Others do not see that one identity, just parts of it. Others thought that we have multiple identities.

We recognized that roles and identities are not the same thing and decided that we ‘play a role’, which is prescribed and comes from outside yourself, but that we ‘are a person with an identity’. But of course a role can impact on your identity.

There are also times when we may need to re-negotiate our identity. One of the BEtreat participants illustrated this with her decision to become a Muslim, which she explained required considerable re-negotiation of her identity.

Finally we discussed the ‘dark night of identity’ which I have blogged about before. There are times when your whole identity falls apart, or what you believed you could do you find you can’t, but as a learner you have to hang on in there, even though at the time you might wonder if you will ever come out of the ‘dark night’. Of course there are some people who thrive on these situations, but as Etienne said, ‘Mastery of learning requires understanding the struggle of what it takes to become something’. It is when our identities are threatened that we learn who we are.

Although we have an identity in relation to many different contexts and we may have to renegotiate our identity in different contexts, the work of identity is in one person. If we look at identity as multiple identities, we underestimate how much work goes on to keep a sense of personhood.

In the 21st century building your identity is hard work.

The Academic BEtreat, gave me plenty of opportunity to think about my identity, who I am, how others might perceive me, the meaning of identity and it’s relation to my learning and learning in general.

The Academic Identity of the Academic BEtreat

Connecting with BEtreaters in Grass Valley

I have been on the Academic BEtreat all week (today is the last day) and realize that I am not at all clear that we have a common understanding of what we mean by ‘academic’ on this BEtreat. What does it mean to be an academic?

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, there is a wide mix of people on the BEtreat – 16 of us in total.

  • Some have openly said they are not academics.
  • Some are as interested in the process of the BEtreat as in the academic content.
  • Some are more interested in the application of the ideas surrounding communities of practice and social learning theory, to their practice (be it in business or academia) than discussing the theory.
  • Others feel that they have come to the BEtreat to discuss theory and feel short-changed if we are not doing that.
  • What is a superficial activity for one is a meaningful activity for another and vice-versa.

The BEtreaters seemed to have come to the BEtreat with specific expectations related to their personal understandings of what an ‘Academic’ BEtreat might offer.

I have looked up the word ‘academic’ as a noun in the dictionary and here are two definitions.

  • A teacher or scholar in a university or institute of higher education
  • An intellectual

Well we are not all teachers in the BEtreat, and I think this probably applies to scholars and intellectuals as well. I wouldn’t count myself in either of those categories.

But looking up the word ‘academic’ as an adjective yields many more definitions. Here are some:

  • Belonging to or relating to a place of learning
  • Of purely theoretical or speculative interest
  • Having an aptitude for study
  • Excessively concerned with intellectual matters
  • Conforming to set rules and traditions
  • Theoretical or hypothetical; not practical, realistic, or directly useful

This is a strange list and makes me think that it’s not helpful to think in terms of academic or not an academic – but maybe more useful think about academic behaviours or academic identities.

I wonder whether if the BEtreat had had a different name,  it would have attracted a different group. For example:

  • Educators’ BEtreat
  • Learning, Meaning and Identity BEtreat
  • Learning Theory BEtreat
  • Social Learning Capability BEtreat
  • Cultivating Communities BEtreat
  • Pedagogy BEtreat …….

…… and so on. How much difference does the name make to who is sitting round the table?

When I signed up for the Academic BEtreat, my expectations were guided by the outline on the Academic BEtreat workshop.

The “academic Betreat” is open to researchers, lecturers, doctoral students, evaluators, and others involved in teaching and research. We envision a small group of 10-20 people, face-to-face and online.

This BEtreat is an invitation to come together and explore key concepts and issues in social learning theory. We take time to go deep into the questions brought to the table by everyone. We discuss concepts and methods, analyze frameworks, and compare theories. People will have a chance to discuss their research with the group and get some help on their work in progress.

Despite the clarity of the BEtreat outline, I know that some people think they have had too little theory, some too much, or some people think they have had too little application to practice and some too much and so on. It’s impossible to please all the people all the time, but it’s interesting to consider why mismatches in expectations occur.

I hoped to have in depth discussions about learning and I have more than enough to take away with me. It’s been exhausting – but time very well spent 🙂

Onliners’ view of Grass Valley BEtreaters

How does a MOOC demonstrate it’s value?

This week I am working online on the Academic BEtreat run by Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner. Whilst the discussion has been centred around Etienne’s 1988 book and their more recent value creation framework (written with Maarten de Laat), a couple of us in the BEtreat, are interested in MOOCs and how these learning environments relate to communities of practice. As a result I have been asked the following questions in relation to the question in the title. This is a copy of the questions and my responses.

MOOCs: Where is the income generated to run one?
It has never been the intention of MOOCs (at least the original connectivist MOOCs) to generate income. Having said that, some MOOCs charge for accreditation. Oxford Brookes intends to do that next year. We’ll have to see if it works. Other MOOCs get sponsorship. See for example the forthcoming FHE12 MOOC

MOOCs: How do you run a MOOC and generate enough revenue to stay independent?
This is an important question as of course funding and sponsorship brings with it constraints, which might affect the pedagogical aims of the MOOC. There has been talk recently on the web about the business model for MOOCs. My view is:

MOOCs were never intended – originally – to generate income. They had altruistic and experimental aims – but of course, we all have to make a living, so MOOCs could never be your only business. I think we need to think in terms of spin-offs of MOOCs and possibly trade-offs. I have written a blog post about my initial thoughts following FSLT12 here – https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/the-business-model-for-moocs/

Scaffolding Learning in MOOCs: How do you scaffold a course in ways that both excites the people who thrive in a non-prescriptive environment and in ways that scaffold the learning enough for people who need a lot more structure?

The original design of MOOCs never intended to scaffold learning. In fact they were never intended be a ‘traditional’ course. The intention was that people would experience uncertainty, unpredictability and information load, as this is what we will need to work with in the world, with the way things are going. Of course we can opt out – just as many people got out of ‘the fast lane’ in the 60s and went off to live in communes – but if we want to try and keep up with the pace of change, then we have to get used to uncertainty. In MOOCs learners are expected to make their own connections and seek peer support through those connections.

But some MOOC deliverers have gone down the SMOOC route (small open online courses), where they do try to provide support within an open course. Lisa Lane (Pedagogy First) and Alec Couros (EC&I 831) both do this through asking for volunteer mentors to work in their MOOCs. However Dave Cormier has just written a blog post that says that the ‘massive’ is needed for a true experience of the original intentions of MOOC.

MOOCs are not for everyone. If a learner wants scaffolded learning – then a MOOC is probably not for them. Despite the hype, I don’t believe that MOOCs are going to replace traditional forms of learning – but I do think they are very important for experimenting with alternative ways of thinking about learning in the 21st century and that they offer the potential of bringing education and learning to people who might otherwise have no access to it.

Finding my voice in Academic BEtreat

The Academic BEtreat is on a roll.

Academic BEtreat learning environment

The technology issues have been largely sorted – yesterday my sound scarcely dropped at all, and if it did it was only for a minute or two – so I now feel like I have more of a chance of learning. (I say ‘my’ sound, but the problems have been at the California end, not at mine here in North West England).

I enjoyed yesterday very much, and I realize, not for the first time that I much prefer learning online than face-to-face, i.e. if there is something deep and substantial to discuss and learn. Face-to-face can be great for networking and socializing, and both these enrich the relationships and the learning, but for me online allows for more ‘filtering’ of ideas, more reflective space and more control over the learning process. I can more easily distance myself and switch off what I don’t want to listen to, I can be more selective about who to interact with, and I have more time (although still nowhere near enough) to process the ideas and new learning. I already feel that my time spent working on this year’s BEtreat online has been far more productive than when I was in California last year.

It has taken me a while to work out how best to organize myself for working online on this BEtreat. Before the start, I set myself up with a large second computer monitor, so that I would have more space to keep open different sites and documents. But despite this I have still reverted to taking hand-written notes. There was just too much switching between Skype, Adobe Connect, video on/off, microphone on/off, open word documents, open PowerPoint presentations, open BEtreat wiki site, open blog posts, and email – to be able to write into a Word document at the same time. But my hand written notes are a terrible scrawl. I am out of the habit of handwriting fast – so will I ever be able to decipher my notes?

What I have found extremely interesting so far is that, despite the distance between me and my Californian and online BEtreat colleagues, I feel that I have much more ‘voice’ this year, than I did last year when I attended the BEtreat face-to-face. We have discussed identity in the BEtreat (I hope to come back to issues of identity in another post), and I realise that I have had much more opportunity to project my identity into the learning community this year. I think I have used my physical voice more in the synchronous sessions than I did last year, but I have also been able to type into the chat, which means I can ‘talk’ without interrupting the speaker. I don’t have to ‘wait my turn’. I also have my own personal wiki page where I can express myself to my heart’s content – and ‘talk’/write about what interests me (a bit like my blog). I’m not sure that anyone is ‘listening’/reading these thoughts, but to me that doesn’t matter. It is another opportunity to project my ‘voice’ and not be interrupted 🙂 And what is more, on reflection, I realise that these depictions of my ‘voice’ are less fleeting than in a face-to-face setting. This can be both positive and negative, but for me the positive usually outweighs the negative.

At least twice in the BEtreat I have felt my identity to be on shaky ground – it has been challenged. I am still reflecting on this, but need time to process my thinking about identity, from what we have heard and learned on this BEtreat.

Finally, there is one other BEtreater who is blogging – my online colleague Jutta Pauschenwein. Jutta has written a great series of blog posts about the BEtreat. This is her latest post – http://zmldidaktik.wordpress.com/2012/08/02/did-i-reach-my-objectives-in-the-betreat/

Much of what Jutta writes reflects my own thinking, but what I realize is that my extensive participation in MOOCs over the past five years has helped me to cope with the uncertainty and information overload in this BEtreat.