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Development Artifacts: Files associated with the development of the research project.
When first reflecting on the goal of my research project, I wanted to create better e-learning modules. I wanted to have our development team create modules that were dynamic and cutting edge. I thought all they would need was a course on learning theory and off we would go. Upon further reflection, I realized that we really do not function as a team. Perhaps, if we functioned more like a team, the end product would evolve to something closer to what I imaged. This took me to my research on social capital and communities of practice [Literature review]. Armed with new information, I attempted to create a community [Cycle 1]. I took it slow and tried to build a collaborative process. My thought was that I could build some consensus and we could move forward. While I did get a lot of affirmation and in many ways built on my informal connections at work, I never really did gain traction with my team.
For a community of practice to develop, it requires that “members share information and insights, and discover ideas (O'Donnell et al, 2003).” Our team does not do this and there is no organizational structure in place to facilitate this type of activity. While the team did verbally affirm the focus of my research project, none of the individual members did much to participate without my prodding. However, one of my goals was not to prod the team members. I was hoping to build some interest and gain traction through a collective desire to build a better practice. This did not happen.
As I reflected on my project, I realized that my approach was possibly too passive. I think the good news was that all of the team members affirmed the ideas, the bad news, however, was that we really had no model for a community of practice. In addition, we had two other problems. First, our team has very little social connection and interaction. Second, from an organizational perspective there is no real structure to support or promote development and investment of social capital. Wenger (1999) says that we need to “build some common meaning and enable engagement.” I think that in an organization it is important to enable engagement by setting some expectations for practice development and to provide the resources and means for this to happen. In addition, management does play a role in the promotion of ideas and as a champion of the community of practice’s success.
Since I felt I needed to take a more assertive position to move things forward, I decided to interview my team leaders and my team [Cycle 2 & Cycle 3]. There are two things that I learned during these cycles. First, while we might come to work to do a job, our identity and meaning for what we do is not necessarily tied to these tasks. In almost of all of the discussions I had, my managers and teammates talked about what they did more from the perspective of social learning theory than business objectives. They all recognized the need to accomplish specific goals, however, the purpose of their work and why they do the things they do were much more personal. I think that is speaks to the need to engage people at a level that is more than just fiscal. Obviously, a business exists as a profit generating enterprise. However, it seems that today’s business organizations are well served to tap into the employee’s greater sense of purpose. Helping align the power of the communities of practice with the organization’s goals appears to be a powerful way to capture the organization’s knowledge and engage its employees.
The second thing that I learned during these interviews is that overtime, we learn to say the right words, yet we have no negotiated meaning for them. For instance, we'll talk of collaboration, yet what does it really mean? Without going into detail, there is nothing to suggest in my team's activities that we are a progressive group of collaborators. However, all of their answers suggested that we were. At a minimum, we have the vocabulary of such a team. I am convinced that we have been exposed to so many corporate orientations and training sessions that we have learned to use words that sound right, but have no real meaning. How can everyone on the team be passionate about collaboration and teamwork, yet do so little to see it in action?
At this point in the process, I became quite frustrated. I felt that the project was going nowhere and I was not sure what to do. I decided to revisit my literature review and read Wenger’s book again. This was eye opening for me. The combination of my experience and a second reading gave me fluency with the material I did not have the first time. Somewhere in the course of reading this material, I began to realize that I have limited control over creating a practice. They just exist because people make collective inquiries. If I wanted to make some inroad with my team, I needed to model the types of activities that I thought were of value. I decided to identify an area of practice for myself and then build a model to provide a more formal structure [Cycle 4].
The next step in my project was to create a repository or virtual meeting place for users of Articulate. Articulate is a software application used by a number of people around the organization. I identified a group of users and evaluated what types of information should be on the site. Then I created the site using SharePoint. I invited others to use the site. It is designed to contain conversation, resources, and make connections.
As of this writing, it is in the early development stage [Cycle 5]. There are about thirty members. Most are still on the outer edge of expertise. However, with each inquiry, I move the information and discussion to the site. After a few months of activity, I would like to hold a virtual conference, where we can review the work we are doing and discuss the things we are learning. My hope is that this site becomes a viable community of practice and a place for us to share and learn from each other. At worst, we are doing a great job collecting resources and artifacts that can be used throughout the organization [Reflections].