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Improving personal home pages to support learning as becoming and belonging

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Recently, Communities of Practice has emerged as a new framework for rethinking learning. It moves us beyond learning as doing and sense making and into learning as becoming and belonging. In order to study issues of becoming and belonging, we must focus on the role of identity in the community of practice. If we are interested in tools that reify that identity, then personal home pages, particularly for the academic community of practice, are a natural place to look. However, we are not convinced that traditional home pages are meeting these learning needs in an adequate way. Based on our previous research and experiences, we theorize three technological ways that these home pages can be improved. Most importantly, we feel conventional home pages fail to offer ways for other members of the community to participate--they fail to be collaborative. To better understand how current home pages meet the needs of the community of practice members and how these needs can better be served, we conducted a survey to assess the state of current home pages, in a potentially informative community of practice. There are no clear boundaries between the development of knowledgeable skills and the development of identities; both arise as individuals participate and both become central to the community of practice. (Barab and Duffy, 2000, p. 29) Previous efforts in the learning sciences have been primarily focused on theories of learning that relate to acquiring and practicing cognitive skills (Collins et al., 1989; Bruer, 1993; Schank et al., 1994). Most of these efforts have been situated in the classroom—a safe environment for learning largely separated from the outside world. The hope is that the cognitive skills learned in these practice fields 1 will be useful later in life as people engage in practices that require these skills. Yet, there is a great deal of learning that occurs outside of the classroom setting (Lave and Wenger, 1991). Recently, communities of practice has emerged as a useful framework to go beyond the cognitive view of learning to incorporate the social (or situated) aspects of learning (Wenger, 1998). Communities of practice are integral to our daily lives. We all belong to them. Families develop practices, routines, histories, etc. Workers organize around their immediate colleagues. Scientists meet at conferences to discuss their findings and make connections with fellow researchers. Students go to school, adapting to both what the learning institution imposes on them and the complex social network of their classmates. Alcoholics rely on a network of fellow alcoholics to avoid temptation (Lave and Wenger, 1991). New employees learn to become claims processors (Wenger, 1998). Each of these are examples of a community of practice in action. They all have a rich history and developed practices. Their practices and meaning are reified in artifacts, tools, symbols, rituals and conventions. New members are able to join and participate. Peripheral members are able to move to more central positions. The practices of the community evolve along with its members. Instead of seeing these elements as largely separate from learning, the communities of practice framework allows us to see these as central to issues of learning, meaning and identity (Wenger, 1998).
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