Online Community of Practice

Wenger (2006) defines Communities of practice as groups of people that learn by sharing an interest or passion for something and are constantly interacting with each other to develop in this interest.

Members, which can be both experts and novices, learn through performing activities. Therefore, these communities consists of it’s members, the level of interaction that happens between them and the artifacts, created by the members (Johnson, 2001).

Learning Community in Education

In a learning community environment students discover that colleagues are sources of valuable information, which changes the teacher-centred focus to the student as an active constructor of knowledge. The dialogue that takes place in this communities enhance the learning experience and supports the constructivist philosophy that a person can only understand thoroughly what they themselves have learned by experience. (Baker-Eveleth, Sarker, Eveleth, 2005)

Nodes as a Community of Practice

Johnson (2001) point the concept of virtual community as different from a community of practice. In his definition, Nodes would be a virtual community, where there’s a group separate by space and time and use a network technology. However it can only become a community of practice once there is interaction between the members and they achieve goals of learning and growth.

References:

Wenger, E. (2006). Communities of practice: A brief introduction. Retrieved 06/20, 2011, from http://www.ewenger.com/theory/

Johnson, C. M. (2001). A survey of current research on online communities of practice. The Internet and Higher Education, 4(1), 45-60.

Baker-Eveleth, L., Sarker, S., & Eveleth, D. M. (2005). Formation of an online community of practice: An inductive study unearthing key elements. Proceedings of the 38th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Science, , 254b.

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Information overload

This was one of the first subjects I come across during my project, but I felt the needed to improve what I have wrote about it so far for the sake of my presentation and exposition materials.

Information Overload happens when you are exposed to more information than you are able to process. The invention of printing made it possible for information to be available to the population in general. Yet, once we’ve reached the digital era, it was possible for anyone to create, reproduce and access an ever-increasing amount of information which inevitably leads to information overload. (Ingebrigtsen, 2011)

By the words of Wurman, it is “the ever-widening gap between what we understand and what we think we should understand.” (Wurman, p. 34)

In relation to data, he states:

Data are facts; information is the meaning that human beings assign to these facts. Individual elements of data, by themselves, have little meaning; it’s only when these facts are in some way put together or processed that the meaning begins to become clear.(Davis, W.S. and McCormack, A., The Information Age, quoted in Wurman, p. 38)

References:

Ingebrigtsen, N. (2011). Understanding information overload. Retrieved 06, 12, 2011, from http://www.infogineering.net/understanding-information-overload.htm

Wurman, R. (1989). Information anxiety (pp. 34-38). United States of America: Doubleday.

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Debate Area

I’m now in process of developing the Debate Area, which I had left for the end. This part of my project was the one I least had time to think about as the idea came late in the process, after reading the paper from Stahl (2000) which is explained in the post Process of Understanding. However the development has been rewarding and would like to point out some aspects of it.

The biggest difference from my platform and other websites is that most of them don’t allow aggregation along with discussion. What I mean by that is that most websites are intended for discussion or questioning (like forums) or they allow aggregation, that in fact have a small discussion part which would be the commenting area, but they don’t provide a separated space for community discussions (like Forrst community).

Another aspect is that once you create a debate, unlike most forums, you need to provide a description, which will appear under the title. My intention is that this area serves more for professional discussions, where the people care to develop the topic further, and create theoretical discussions rather than asking how to solve practical issues.

The debates will also be able to be sorted in different ways, which is easier and cleaner than the forum like thread of infinite subjects. Sort debates by field of work seems to be the most promising way of doing it, as it could even display for each user by default posts in the user filed of work (as they will provide this information when creating an account).

One idea that I could develop is to allow the person who created the debate to state at any time if the debate is closed, if it has developed to another subject in another debate or if it is in progress.

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Storytelling and Integration

The information overload has been leading the web for some time towards the idea of integration. The problem being the incredible amount of non-contextualised data available, the widespread solution has become the ‘organisation of information’ composed by an effective navigation, aggregation from different sources, content organisation and usability. The user gained more autonomy and applications and platforms are allowing users to do the organisation themselves. However one piece is still missing: Storytelling.

The first time I heard Storytelling in the same context of Web was in New Adventures in Web Design Conference, with the amazing speech by Andy Clarke. The slides for the whole presentation showed pieces of a comic book, and how the engagement, tension, movement, emotion and climax were achieved in this medium. Although it was sometimes hard to transfer it into a web context, it was a incredible alert to this aspect that is often missing in web pages.

In fact, to be fair there are means of storytelling in the web. For instance, Slideshare (http://www.slideshare.com/) which contains thousands of user-created narrated slide shows, Twitter and Facebook, allowing people to tell their own stories in short posts while Weblogs allow for bigger posts. Although I particularly believe they are excellent tools in their own right, I will use Twitter and Facebook as an example. Both of them allow anyone to share their stories, however, you don’t have much control over how you consume it. When you are a reader you are faced with a bunch of overlapping narratives, which means there is integration, but there isn’t ‘storylistening’.

I don’t mean at all that Facebook or Twitter should change in anyway, what I mean is that after their boom, there are numerous applications and websites that aggregates and integrates content from these and other platforms, but in the end, with a lack of power from the user to manage this integration there is little to make sense from these data.

“The more power a user has to control the narrative himself, the more a user will “own” that narrative.”
A Case for Web Storytelling

Within the context of my project, there is an attempt to allow users to build a narrative by grouping subjects together and progress their narratives using aggregated related posts as a reference. It wasn’t a topic which I extensively worked on, however I believe this idea would lead to a natural evolution of the platform, specially thinking that enabling ways to build a narrative would help the sense-making.

References

Alexander, B., & Levine, A. (2008). Web 2.0 storytelling: Emergence of a new genre. Retrieved 05/17, 2011, from educause

Cloninger, C. (2000). A case for web storytelling. Retrieved 05/16, 2011, from http://www.alistapart.com/articles/storytelling/

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IA Diagram V.1

Here I present the diagram of the Information Architecture of Nodes. This is my first attempt to one of those, based on the visual vocabulary presented by Garret(2002). I believe it will be necessary to understand the correct form to produce such a diagram as the theory is always different from practical application.

flowchart

Reference:

Garrett, J. J. (2002). A visual vocabulary for describing information architecture and interaction design. Retrieved April, 2011, from http://www.jjg.net/ia/visvocab/

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Process of Understanding

Throughout my research, the Process of Understanding is a subject I repeatedly stumbled across. In fact it is the centre of my inquiry as to create a Knowledge-Building Environment (Stahl, 2000). I have found many interpretations for this process, such as: Devin’s Sense Making Model (1998), Shedroff’s Understanding Continuum (1994) and Wodehouse & Ion’s DIKW hierarchy, applied in concept design context (2010). Most recently I have found another version of this process: Stahl’s diagram of personal and social knowledge building (2000).

I believe these proposed models complement each other. Shedroff goes from how content is presented to how it is understood, from a global to a personal perspective. The Sense Making Model is particularly personal, focused on situation-bound, suggesting that the understanding always change through time and space. As for the Stahl diagram, it is especially interesting in my project because it incorporates the social aspect to it.

The diagram of knowledge-building processes is presented bellow:
knowledge-building

The cycle of personal understanding resembles the sense-making model. It starts with a tacit pre-understanding (Polanyi in Stahl, 1962) that eventually faces an awareness of the problematic nature of an instance of understanding and this gap should be filled by reinterpreting this instance. If the problem is solved this becomes a new tacit understanding (Stahl, 2000).

When it is not possible to solve the problem internally, then the cycle of social knowledge building takes place. The person articulates its personal believes in a form of public statement which originates a discussion in the topic and this exchange can converge to a shared understanding (vocabulary and meanings needs to be clarified). Then parts with opposed arguments negotiate and it results in a common understanding which is recognized as knowledge. This can be acknowledged as a socio-cultural knowledge which can be always subject to questioning and subsequent steps in the process (Stahl, 2000).

Having understood that, I felt the need of building a diagram for the process of understand which would occur inside my platform, providing a personal process which involves some social parts. However this diagram is still in its early stages, so it still very generic and some parts should be revised, but it a good starting point to understand how knowledge should be created inside Nodes.

process_of_understanding

References:

Devin, B. (1998). Sense-making theory and practice: An overview of user interests in knowledge seeking and use. Journal of Knowledge Management, 2(2), 36-46.

Shedroff, N. (1994). Information interaction design: A unified field theory of design., 1994, from http://www.nathan.com/thoughts/unified/

Wodehouse, A. J., & Ion, W. J. (2010). Information use in conceptual design: Existing taxonomies and new approaches. International Journal of Design, 4(3), 53-65.

Stahl, G. (2000). A model of collaborative knowledge-building. Fourth International Conference of the Learning Sciences, , 70-77.

Smith, M. K. (2003) ‘Michael Polanyi and tacit knowledge’, the encyclopedia of informal education, http://www.infed.org/thinkers/polanyi.htm.

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Wireframe sketching

Some sketches of wireframes. They show the window where the user can create a new post where he could choose between text, image, video and link posts. The image and video share the same model (apart from multiple instances concerning images).

Bellow is the sketch of the Profile/My account page, where the user can see the latest posts, relations he has created and edit them and some suggestions to add peers, selected by same interest and field of work.

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Survey Analysis

The survey was performed in the platform SurveyMonkey. It was distributed mainly via Twitter and Forrst (community of designers) and twenty responses were collected.

The questions structure can be divided in two sections: context questions and research process.

Context questions

Ages varied a lot from 18 to 35 years old, only 2 were over 36, and the great majority, with 75%, were professionals in their area. Around half of the interviewees define themselves as web designers and the other half were from various fields of work: graphic design, multimedia, interaction design, information architecture and social media. This demonstrates that all respondents were from fields related to digital design.

Research Process Questions

Concerning sources, all of them were quite popular, blog having the highest score with 19 out of 20 readers.
survey1

When asked how they reflect on their reading and if there is writing involved, answers varied and the most common practice being bookmarking and taking notes. However, writing had a reasonably good score with 40% of respondents performing this activity.
survey2

Reflections are mostly writing in form of notes in notebooks, however a significant number of 8 people write in their blogs.
survey3

It was asked which tools they use in this process, as a way of understanding the market and what creative people were using online. Around 70% of people use the simple bookmarking systems. A striking aspect of this question was that communities are very often used for research, with 52% using Dribbble, 40% using Forrst and 21% using Deviant Art and Behance Network.

The last question was posed to obtain feedback on the gatekeeper’s idea, to see if people identify one person as an important source of information. Surprisingly rather then a person, most of people identify an online community as the great source of ideas and inspiration. This demonstrates a relation that is one to many rather then one to one, and should be incorporated in my project.

survey4

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Focus Group Analysis

The focus group was performed with two students of Nottingham Trent University, both from different backgrounds: a graphic designer undertaking the MA course (D1) and a multimedia undergraduate student (D2). The session was recorded and the transcript was analysed under 4 major groups: Creative process, Idea generation, Research (reading and writing) and Reflection (on and in action).

The aim with this focus group, as explained in previous posts, is to get a better insight of how creative practitioners think to help me develop a tool more appropriate and useful for them. My approach is Activity-Centred so rather them use the answers to develop the tool, I will use the answers to reflect and optimise the activity.

Overall, both interviewees not surprisingly showed difficulty in explaining their process, showing that most designers don’t realise the process as it is often intuitive, reinforcing Dorst (2008) statement that designers believe they do not use methods in their process. Another interesting aspect which relates to the previous post is that, at first, designers didn’t acknowledge the research bit in the process, illustrated by this statement:

D1: “But you don’t read really, you see visually how it works”.

As the conversation went on they identified certain research moments, however always relating it to visual aspects or to idea generation, concentrating always on the design process.

D2: “I think there is a lot of reading involved, but more like visual examples”.

D2: “I suppose there’s always a worry of missing out on a great idea or great concept, so I suppose to give yourself the opportunity to read a little bit, not necessarily essays and everything, but just kind of pint point a little bit of each thing and then you can kind of come up with a greater idea, possibly.”

D1: “Is actually because we see so many designs, we actually learn from other people’s mistakes.”

These three statements are of key importance as they not only relate again to the previous post, as research is always considered to be related to the design process, rather than design research, but also it illustrates the idea that creative practitioners are visual learners.

Regarding writing, both didn’t recognise much writing in the process, however when asked about the reflective journal (a blog showing their reflection on practice) both identified benefits this kind of reflective writing could bring in the design process.

D1: “It’s useful because when you are in a company you are used to working fast and you don’t really have time to look at all the options, but when you have a reflective journal and you have to write down, create mind maps and etc, you actually might see something that if you had less time you wouldn’t be able to see, and you might generate another idea and another idea.”

D2: “So I suppose it does help you to look at more options and then pick the better one, and by doing that, slowly hopefully, it will become your kind of first nature to do it, so you will as you get more used to doing it you will be choosing the best ideas and it will take you a shorter amount of time so you will be generating ideas at a much quicker pace and more efficiently.”

One of the statements which I found very interesting was about reflection:

D2: “A video is like someone else, so if I can explain myself to a camera, then I’m going to explain myself to you in a better way, so you can tailor your approach to sharing ideas in a different way.”

which is similar to Richard Saul Wurman statement in the post The Age of Data. It’s interesting how people perceive the “conversation”, in whatever medium, as a way of understanding; as you explain something, you organize the thought in a reasonable way and one’s understanding becomes concrete.

In a nutshell, some things can be conclude from this meeting. First, there is a clear focus on practice and research is always associated to the design process. Secondly, creative practitioners tend to have “visual minds”. This statement has two sides. I believe they notice visuals a lot easier than the reasoning they certainly make from it, their visual orientation leads them to not acknowledge much contribution of the research to idea generation and understanding. The other side is that they are visual learners, which means they make sense of visuals or things with a visual appealing. Lastly, time is a key factor for writing, but it was acknowledges some benefits for generation of more and better ideas and create an understanding.

As I mentioned before, these conclusion will lead me to a better development of a research tool. Although the responses weren’t very enthusiastic about research, there was still an understanding of its importance and this tool could possibly stimulate this practice. Visuals will play a great role in this process and create an ease for the research activity.

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