Listening my way through a series of podcasts created by the students of the intro to emerging tech course being taught through the University of Manitoba. The two papers at issue this week are on Communities of Practice and Why Lurkers Lurk (.pdf) . They’re a nicely matched pair for introducing ideas around the contributions that people make in a community learning environment, and seemed to strike a chord with our students in both the live discussions and in the podcasts that the students created in response to this week’s reading as well.
Response no 1 – I’m bad because I lurk
By far the overwhelming response from the students who have posted their podcasts (hem hem to you who have not) is that they felt a little ashamed of their lurking in their learning. There is some feeling that the word ‘lurk’ presents too negative a feeling based on the meaning that the word caries over from other context… but this isn’t the meat of the response. There is almost a sense in which the podcaster/students seem to feel like they are cheating themselves by lurking… like they are somehow “doing it wrong.” There is another, more traditional interpretation, in which they feel like they aren’t contributing to a community and are parasites on the work of others… but I find this ‘doing it wrong’ idea a compelling one. Where is this ‘right’ that they are comparing against? Is this another example of our traditional learning models looming…?
The students are drawing a tight connection between their own offline propensity for sitting ‘on the outside’ and not directly participating and their preference for luking online. (which does seem confusing as they feel like their offline learning is not ‘wrong’) And, as they progress from the lurker article to the community of practice article they find the language that they need in ‘legitimate peripheral participation’… lurking with a purpose, as it were.
“‘the purpose is not to learn from talk as a substitute for legitimate peripheral participation; it is to learn to talk as a key to legitimate peripheral participation’.”
(quoted in community of practice article from original Lave/Wenger book)
This then, is the defence of learning… assuming that there is a further goal beyond that. It’s a great defence if your lurking will eventually lead to more direct participation as you move towards the middle and begin to be able ‘to talk’ better within that community. Not that lurking particularly even needs a defence… I mean… how many expert knitters do we really need. I go to a knitting website, and I get information. If you are actually engaged in a community and are not helping, if people have helped you reach a level of proficiency that you then do not pass on… then that’s bad. But, like so many things, I think it just comes down to being honest about where you are, why you’re there, and what people have done for you.
The Community Social Contract
This is not a comment on what you ‘should’ do when you are in a community, but rather, an idea of what’s going. In response to one of my students in the course, I mentioned that teh social contract that is inherent in a community is different then other locations for knowledge acquisition and co-creation. If you are in a library, for instance, searching through books, there is an entire infrastructure (government or school created) that is behind trying to engender a certain kind of learning in a populace, trying to enhance the status of an institution or a particular person. This is not to say that they don’t want people to learn, but rather that these institutions exist in our society for a reason. they are paid for with tax dollars or as part of a business.
A community, on the other hand, is often the result of shared passion, shared interest, or shared self-interest. The social contract that exists is often difficult to read… There are some communities that love lurkers (edtechtalk is certainly one of those, by far the vast majority of our listeners we never hear from) there are others that expect a certain amount of participation… that would rather people ‘contribute’.
For my own part, I like to think of it like my no doubt oversimplified understanding of the word Karma. I don’t expect that most of the communities that I learn from particularly need my contributions. I try to leave behind questions and answers to issues that I have run into in order to leave that information behind me. And, what i particularly try and do is make sure that I participate where and when i can… This is the responsibilty that I have to the overall communities that I work in.
The mantra that i’ve been repeating over and over again lately is this “The stuff that you are reading on the internet, the communities that you interact with are REAL. They are created by real people. Treat them with respect. That is your responsibility as a good citizen.”
bit high handed I suppose… oh well…