Joining a new community

We’ve all had the experience of walking into a new environment and wondering how best to fit in and succeed. We are experiencing it now as we start this program. In “Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems” (Wegner, 2000), the author presents the complexity around learning and outlines the scope and purpose of learning communities. It presents definitions and explanations of how communities are formed and knowledge is built. It discusses the complexity around learning and how learning is not just about displaying competence.

As I read the article, it put an experience of my own into context. Two years ago I was laid off from a job. I had worked in that school for 12 years. I had been actively involved in creating many of the tools, processes, and resources we used in student support. I was extremely active with a professional network and had a reputation of success throughout our industry. Then, I moved to a completely different School within ASU. I realized an entirely different community existed within undergraduate advising. Although I had worked at ASU for 12 years, it was as-if I came into a brand new organization. Our communities of practice shared some basic technology resources and facilities, but other than that, were extremely different. It was shocking.   It required that I modify my own definition of my success based upon new criterion. As the article stated “we define ourselves by what we are not as well as by what we are, by the communities we do not belong to as well as by the ones we do”. And, my community was entirely different. As I read the article, I pinpointed much of what I had experienced: the boundaries of moving within communities, the jargon, the internal tools and resources, etc. On the other hand, I’ve also been able to bring a new perspective to my new community. It was a growth experience, but I have definitely broadened my own ‘knowledge’ and can now exist within these two communities.

As I prepare for conducting my own research in a community, I recognized a broader application for understanding communities of practice. It took some time to learn what I did about the new community, but I learned it. In the article about “Participatory Action Research and City Youth”, the authors established the rationale for engaging in Participatory Action Research (PAR). After reading the article by Wenger (2000) I found significant value in considering PAR in relation to communities of practice.

In regards to PAR, the authors discussed the rules, norms, leaders, and boundaries of the youth action research and I found such great guidance for outlining my own approach to my research area. (Bautista & Morrell, n.d.) I’m interested in measuring the effectiveness of advising practices as well as advisor performance. While their case study discussed the engagement of youth, the application to my research that I identified was the need to ensure advisors and students (my communities of interest) are actively engaged. This article even made the clear point that these communities should be engaged in the creation/identification of the problem itself.

With the influence of these two articles, I reflected on various questions. How can I contribute to the action research of my own advising community? What are the parameters (boundaries) by which I can answer questions about my own proficiency? Isn’t that understanding really critical before I start questioning others’ proficiency? And, shouldn’t I be sure to involve them when I start asking?

“Identity is crucial to social learning systems for three reasons. First our identities combing competence and experience into a way of knowing…Second, our ability to deal productively with boundaries depends on our ability to engage and suspend our identities…third, our identities are the living vessels in which communities and boundaries become realized as an experience of the world” (Wenger, 2000, pg. 239)


Bautista, M., Bertrand, M., Morrell, E., Scorza, D. & Matthews, C. (2013). Participatory Action Research and City Youth: Methodological Insights From the Council of Youth Research. Teachers College Record, 115(100303), 1­23.

Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems. Organization, 7(2), 225–246.





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