Friday, 14 May 2010

Forging identity and learning in Professional Practice


Knowledge acquisition and learning have shifted from the explorations in Artificial Intelligence and neural networks to how technology has adapted to living in the world, asking who we are, how we learn and construct knowledge. Etienne Wenger (he who coined the phrase – Communities of Practice with Lave) had some big questions to ask at the Mediating Boundaries conference organsied by Jisc Advance on 12th May in London. His big question is how technology interacts in the social world. As a snail on garden path leaves a silver trail indicating his presence so our meanderings in the digital habitat reveals something of our identity. The issue of our identity or multiple identities in reconfiguring the landscape we inhabit is another idea which preoccupies him. There are four facets to our occupation of the digital habitat:

Fabric of connectivity which encapsulates our virtual presence
Modes of engagement which mirrors self expression
Active Medium indicates social/informational computing
Redefined geography opens the possibilities of multi-membership

We place ourselves at the centre of the digital landscape and we manage these connections with a multiplicity of thick (closer) and thin (less close) relationships. Wenger posed the question of social learning spaces. Where do we come to know both a practice and identity? Is it on a technologically facilitated network or at a real workshop? Where is there a genuine social learning space?

Accountability and responsibility are two certainties for individuals in organizations. And Wenger identifies two discourses which are at odds here. The vertical line which reflects grade and scale and is expressed in Policy. The horizontal line embraces tacit peer contact and is not always positive.

The implications of this for professional practice are profound. From an identity perspective we have to consider the various relationships we have and how where we visit impacts on and shapes our identity. Presumed in this identity is what we know and how we learned what we know. In promoting a learning citizenship Wenger advocates moving from curriculum oriented view to an identity oriented view. This means shifting our practice from what we are going to teach to managing who we are. Becoming good at something is preferable to not succeeding and the production of portfolios and establishing areas of excellence is central to placing individuals at the centre of a learning landscape as opposed to standing alongside it. The digital habitat is a series of nodes and network links and as connected professionals we have to both locate ourselves on the landscape and forge an identity.

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