Wenger (no date, Online) describes communities of practice as ‘groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly’. Blogging could be seen as an ideal medium for communities of practice – allowing for comment and thought as well as the potential for interaction. Perhaps one major issue for a teacher in the lifelong learning sector, is the question of which community of practice are we interacting with. This particular blog is aimed at tutors and peers involved in the same module. However, the potential of blogging in education is the ability to interact with the students. In my case, this is students of Ophthalmic Dispensing or Contact Lenses. In addition to this, I also work as both a Dispensing Optician and a Contact Lens Optician. This could give me a further opportunity to interact with another community of practice within the industry as opposed to an educational setting.
A look at the use of blogs within the Ophthalmic Dispensing industry reveal very little in depth. Blogs such as ‘delighted to be a dispensing optician’ (2011, Online.) and ‘Dispensing Optician – Lesley-Johann’ both are snapshots of the state of the industry or diaries of events, with little or no interaction with the broader community of practice.
Alternatively, the use of blogging in education is much more widespread and would appear far more successful . Steve Wheelers blog on learning technology (2012), shows a much broader use of the blog as an interactive tool, with pictures and other hyperlinks, and a great deal of discussion with other peers. It appears that he can demonstrate what the blog is capable of, whereas the blogs by dispensing opticians able to be viewed do not show the same level of blogging as a tool for interaction.
Godwin-Jones (2003) suggested blogs as being constructed by people who share similar interests who collaborate to set objectives or ideas, and also suggested that this is what distinguishes blogs from other forms of websites. I certainly share interests with other opticians, as well as with my students. But as my students are more interested in their learning journey than the vocation, then do my students and my peers in optical industry share the same interests and goals?
I fear it would be very difficult to use a blog to try to connect these different communities of practice which I am currently involved in. Looking at how other blogs are used in different environments, it is clear that what is of interest to one particular community of practice will be of lesser interest to another community of practice. Perhaps the answer is to use blogging as an educational tool for the students, whilst drawing on experiences of these different communities.
Ideally, how I would like to use the blog in an educational setting by inviting current students as well as former students working in practice to share best practice and offer peer advice, as well as making my own comments on the experiences of the industry and education. It could be a very useful tool to run alongside a social network.
Perhaps the biggest concern is student apathy. I have attempted blogs as well as social networks in the past and have felt that I have been shouting at empty space. To get the students to use it as an interactive tool rather than another resource of information has always been the challenge for me – you can take a horse to water but you cant make it drink. Closer examination of the two previously mentioned blogs by dispensing opticians (see previous post) have been conspicuously sparce of comments
Yang (2009, p14) claimed that blogs are virtual classrooms, where ‘people from all over the world can share opinions and express ideas by using a language they all understand’. While this is certainly a possibility (Neverseconds being an example), my opinion is that in reality, the blog is far more likely to appeal to much smaller communities of practice, such as a class cohort, if it is to be used as a tool for interaction rather than a platform for an individual opinion. Of course, this opinion is coming from someone who has limited and unsuccessful experience of blogging. If I can find a way to try to broaden my community of practice and amalgamate my students with the broader vocational community, then I may yet be a convert. It is certainly something which must be worth trying.
Diponio (2011) Delighted to be a dispensing optician [Online.] Available: http://www.opticianonline.net/opticianspace/blogs/the_dispensing_blog/archive/2011/01/27/delighted-to-be-a-dispensing-optician.aspx [Accessed 26/03/2014]
Godwin-Jones, B. (2003). Emerging technologies: Blogs and wikis: Environments for on-line collaboration. Language Learning & Technology, 7 (2), 12–16.
Payne, M. (2012), Neverseconds. [Online.] Available: http://neverseconds.blogspot.co.uk/ Accessed: 23/03/2014
Stephens, L. J. (2013) Dispensing Optician [Online.] Available: http://dispensingoptician.blogspot.co.uk/ [Accessed 26/03/2014]
Wenger-Trayner, E. (No Date) Communities of practice a brief introduction [Online.] Available http:// http://wenger-trayner.com/theory/ [accessed 26th March 2014]
Wheeler, S. (2012) Learning with ‘e’s. My thoughts about learning technology and all things digital. [Online.] Available: http://steve-wheeler.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/learning-unlearning-and-relearning.html [Accessed: 4/4/14].
Yang, S.H. (2009). Using Blogs to Enhance Critical Reflection and Community of Practice. Educational Technology & Society, 12 (2), 11–21.