Capping Project

Platforms for Participation: Leveraging Computer-Mediated Communication and Sociocognitive Principles to Facilitate the Co-Creation of Affinity-Based Communities of Critical Inquiry to Enrich the Art and Craft of Collaboration
Nathan S.K. Freed
University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta

If there is one word or phrase to describe the 20th century, it would be mass production. Mankind has perfected the process for mass producing everything in our culture and society: education, healthcare, wars, food, products and services. If there is one word or phrase that will bring value and a competitive advantage to individuals and organizations in the 21st century, it would be mass collaboration. The new asset in today’s economy will be creativity and innovation - collaborate or perish! Our world has become more complex than any one individual within it (Homer-Dixon, 2000). "In a culture of complexity, the chief role of leadership is to mobilize the collective capacity to challenge difficult circumstances. Our only hope is that many individuals working in concert can become as complex as the society they live in" (Fullan, 2001, p. 136). Those collaboration facilitators who can unite disparate persons or organizations for a single purpose, co-create solutions, and innovate at the cross-roads will prosper in this world order.
The Knowledge Works Foundation’s ( philanthropy is “solving national education problems innovatively and with others”. One of their visions for 21st century learning involves the rise of the long tail economics permitting niche markets to be cost effective. This serves to enable deep personalization. Individuals will reject mass production in exchange for personalization, including education.
Companies like BMW, Boeing, IBM, Proctor and Gamble, and Goldcorp already know the power of the art and craft of collaboration which has brought tremendous value to their bottom line (Tapscott & Williams, 2006). These companies no longer see value only in the physical capital like factories and proprietary assets. They have also embraced the value of human capital: creativity, innovation and the science of sharing. In an ever increasingly more complex society, a fluid and dynamic organization that can respond in a timely manner to those complexities does not need nor want to own and control all the steps in the production cycle. They rely on a network of global partners and share expertise to co-create a more timely, cost-efficient and personalized product for their customers. Serving their customers with deep personalization drives value in the organization. Thus, the greatest margins and profitability within a culture of complexity lie in those organizations which have mastered the art and craft of sharing and collaboration. Likewise, the greatest drivers of innovation and creativity within an educational context also embrace a culture of collaboration. Dufour and Eaker (1998) call them professional learning communities. Wegner (1998) refers to them as communities of practice. In either case, fluid and dynamic educational authorities that embrace peer networks drive value throughout the organization.
Today's graduates who can work collaboratively on a local or a global scale to innovatively and creatively serve the niche markets will drive value, productivity and be in high demand. Developing social models for innovating creative solutions will be the tipping point for those who want to participate in the collaboration age. Analysis, synthesis, creativity, innovation within a community of critical inquiry will provide the competitive advantage. The question, then, is how do the leaders within organizations (educational, business, etc.) participate in the global economy of mass collaboration?
Wikis, videoconferencing, social indexing, instant messaging, application programming interfaces (API), podcasts, RSS feeds, folksonomies and video blogs are just a few of the technologies revolutionizing the art and craft of collaboration. For the first time, humans have the capacity to engage, participate and co-create intellectual assets by leveraging computer-mediated collaboration tools. The impacts of mass collaboration on innovation may be profound. But how will individuals, educators, professional developers, learners, leaders and collaboration facilitators capitalize on this new paradigm and science of collaboration? Will these communities evolve organically? How does the research on social constructivist theory support this form of social cognition? What resources are required to produce and harness these platforms for participation to profit from collective wisdom? What characterizes a community of critical inquiry? How do we turn the stumbling blocks into stepping stones? These questions will be addressed through a meta-analysis of the research and an analysis of a consultation that was conducted and facilitated via videoconference at Alberta Education in January 2007. Two technologies, wikis and videoconferencing, will be further investigated to illustrate how a collaboration facilitator may use these tools to nurture platforms for participation. Ultimately, those who are successful will leverage computer-mediated communication tools to facilitate the co-creation of affinity-based communities of critical inquiry to enrich the learning process. Those organizations that embrace a culture of collaboration will benefit from the innovations that arise from these platforms for participation and will excel in the future.

Affinity-Based Community of Critical Inquiry
A community of critical inquiry is composed of peer networks (professionals and/or learners) which have similar interests or goals and understand that learning takes place in context with members in order to find innovative solutions to the fractious challenges. (Fullan, 2001; Garrison et al., 2001; Jonassen & Howland, 2003; Michinov, Michinov, & Toczek-Capelle, 2004; Schlager & Fusco, 2003; Tapscott & Williams, 2004; Wenger, 1998). Community of critical inquiry may go by a number of names including professional learning community (DuFour & Eaker, 1998), network of peers (Tapscott & Williams, 2006), and community of practice (Wenger, 1998). Critical inquiry is a key function of the group because our society has become more complex than any one individual within it. The members of this affinity-based community may be naturally drawn to each other or formally marshalled by the organization's leadership for the purpose of sharing, innovating, learning, peering, co-creating, synergizing, leveraging collective wisdom and/or collaborating. A community, working in concert and relying on the collective wisdom of the membership, is more aptly positioned to solve the pressing issues of the organization. "Improvement occurs through organized social learning, not through the idiosyncratic experimentation and discovery of variously talented individuals." (Elmore, 2000, p. 25).
The degree of affinity depends upon the ultimate purpose of the collective. The more similar the goals, the more similar the members. For example, a cohort of teachers from around the world may be affinity-based if they are talking about international education. However, Alberta Biology 30 teachers may be affinity-based if they were debating which outcomes from their Program of Studies are most difficult to teach and learn. In the second case, only Biology 30 teachers have enough affinity to bring value to the discourse.
Within the community, the knowledge is distributed amongst the memory of its membership (Jonassen & Howland, 2003). The community of learners is a powerful means for learning and developing personally or professionally. These communities are the "origin of knowledge creation" (Fullan, 2001, p. 67). Some of the key tenets of a community of inquiry is learning, innovation, and peering which takes place in context with other members. Leaders who want to capitalize on the potential of a learning and development strategy need to leverage the platform for participation. This can be accomplished by using a collaboration facilitator to engage cognitive discourse that will enhance critical insights, collective wisdom and a culture of collaboration. Without the platform and strong leadership, a culture of learning, sharing, peering, co-creating, synergizing and ultimately innovating will go unrealized.
Platforms for Participation

"If I have seen a little further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." (Sir Isaac Newton, 1675).
According to Tapscott and Williams (2006), platforms for participation are digital commons where “communities of partners can innovate and create value…mass collaboration in action.” (p. 184). Self-organizing and managed communities will take advantage of unlocked technology and online collaboration tools to innovate and create worth far more effectively and efficiently than may be expected individually. Members will build upon the intellectual capital that has been accrued by the community to co-design innovative new solutions to existing challenges. These communal platforms have the potential to initiate serendipitous partnerships that generate unanticipated results – the essence of innovation. However, the core of this collaboration is based upon a philosophy of generosity and a culture of openness to benefit from the collective wisdom of the community.
The potential of the platform is magnified if members co-create and, as Covey (1990) describes in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, synergize. When synergistic relationships and co-creations occur at cross-roads, insights will grow exponentially. Frans Johansson (2006) revealed in The Medici Effect that innovative insights occur at cross-roads. This comes about when a diversity of individuals or ideas collide to create unique and innovative solutions. During the Renaissance, the Medici family provided funds for artists and thinkers from across the globe to congregate in Rome. This symbolized the birth of the Renaissance and enlightenment in European history. In this example, The Medici family was the collaboration facilitator and Rome was the platform for participation.
How does a collaboration facilitator bring the community to the cross-roads of leading ideas? Effective facilitation and employment of the mass-collaboration features of wikis, videoconferencing, social indexing, instant messaging, application programming interfaces (API), podcasts, RSS feeds, folksonomies and video blogs are just some of the tools that may be used individually or in concert to amass a platform for participation. In this research, we will investigate the collaborative features of two tools, wikis and videoconferencing, to appreciate how they may assist collaboration facilitators, educators, professional developers and leaders to co-create an affinity based community of critical inquiry. As Shai Agassi, the president of product and technology group at SAP, states, “Most of the free electrons will gravitate toward the biggest centers of gravity.” (Tapscott & Williams, 2006, p. 211).
Why a Wiki?
A wiki is an online space where members of the community can co-create on collaborative projects. The term 'wiki' was coined by Ward Cunningham in 1994, the creator of the first wiki. He took the name from the Honolulu airport shuttle system, 'Wiki Wiki', which takes passengers between terminals. 'Wiki Wiki' means 'quick'. He originally wanted to call this new tool 'quick web' but he chose the word wiki instead. Wikipedia is probably the most famous wiki. It is an online encyclopedia and vibrant community that may be edited by anyone in the world. The wiki is a tool which permits members to collaborate asynchronously on shared projects. It utilizes a simple word processing tool to edit text, upload images, imbed podcasts and other multimedia. Like a blog, wikis have threaded discussions where members may postulate ideas and respond to other members to explore and build on models. However, unlike blogs, wikis also allow members to embed podcasts, learning objects, photos, hypertext, mind maps, graphs, videos, slideshows, calendars, polls, bookmarks, instant messaging, and so much more in an environment where the membership co-creates the space to reflect the best ideas and thinking of the community.
A wiki is a powerful technology accommodating the evolving, collaborative and on-going collective wisdoms and insights of a community of learners. It is a tool an affinity-based community of inquiry may use to create a platform for participation. The power lies in facilitating the co-creation of a communal, web-based space where members may collect, discuss, critique, edit, collaborate, investigate, summarize, demonstrate, apply, analyze and synthesize shared wisdom.
Wikis are easy to master and free to use. Individuals who have basic computer skills can contribute and benefit from the content of the site.,,, and are some of the organizations which offer free wiki spaces. It usually requires only a few steps to get started. Point and click customization and real time visibility results in rapid time-to-value and high adoption rates which make a broad community possible. Consequently, students as young as grade 3 or 4 would be capable of using this technology. The power of a wiki lies in its plasticity to allow for multi-modal, asynchronous collaborations within a community to enhance the learning process. Since this is a collective space, all members can add and/or edit content. It may become the central repository for the collective wisdom that has been accrued by the membership.
The evolution of the wiki is organic. Typically, a shared sense of ownership is inherently motivating to compel community members to develop and maintain the content for the space. The collaborative nature of wikis permits members to disaggregate and scaffold either their own contributions or those of their peers. Inevitably, individual learner growth will flourish in an environment when the technology propels the learners to creatively investigate and inquire about the learning goals.
One of the challenges of an on-line community is protection of privacy and appropriate use by members and non-members. Appropriate use is easily monitored by the administrator of the wiki site. In order to participate, an individual must be invited and thus the administrator controls who can edit and even view site content. Content can never be permanently deleted since all contributions are automatically versioned every time someone adds or edits part of the wiki. The wiki automatically tracks and records all the modifications and attaches those changes to the author. By clicking on the history button or tab, members of the community may view all previous versions. Inappropriate use can be monitored by the administrator and every entry can be attributed back to the particular member. Anonymous graffiti is impossible because every user has to log in and each contribution leaves a digital footprint. All participants can clearly see what changes have been made, by whom and when.
Since every contribution by members is tracked, educators or facilitators may view each submission. Educators may use this as a summative or formative assessment tool or even an e-Portfolio. A wiki is more powerful than a growing blog because learners can add more than text to illustrate the level of understanding about a concept. Learners can create and publish their own podcasts, videos, images, slideshows, papers, and so on. The wiki permits multi-modal applications and tools to showcase individual growth and contributions to the shared wisdom and collective commons. Gone are the days of pen-pals and class projects. Welcome to an era of the wiki-fied classroom: wiki-pals and international collaboration initiatives.
If used within a classroom, wikis offer many means to collect assessment pieces. As an example, on a daily basis, a new student is nominated as the scribe. It becomes the student’s responsibility to draft a summary for that particular class session. The other students are invited to edit or even reflect upon the original post. Furthermore, if assignments are announced in stages and posted to the wiki, the teacher may log in to assess and comment on the progress of student work at specific intervals to provide timely input, feedback and guidance during development. Since edits and additions to a wiki are automatically attributed to the author, wiki rubrics may be designed to quantify and qualify assessment for students.
The wiki may become an excellent vehicle to build upon school and home communication. Wikis allow parents to have an up to the minute glimpse into what their children are studying. And if the administrator allows, they may even become contributing members. Parents may grow to appreciate the wiki as a virtual portal into their child’s learning. Rarely do parents have an opportunity to participate in the daily activities which occur within the classroom. However, by using the collaborative function of a wiki, parents may not only observe the child's life within the classroom, but for the first time, may actively participate!
In the fall of 2007, I facilitated the creation of a wiki by a group of Edmonton junior high science teachers. The image below is an example of a current community of critical inquiry in action.

This community works collaboratively on science inquiry to enhance teaching and learning within their classrooms. To find out more about this wiki and emerging culture of collaboration, please click on the following link:
Mass collaboration is about making connections to analyze, evaluate, co-create, communicate and collaborate. How do professional developers, educators, facilitators and leaders co-mingle the potential of Web 2.0 with the learning goals of the 21st century learner inside an organization? The answer may exist in a tool which supports a community of inquiry “to explore and create patterns, examine relationships, test conjectures and solve problems” (Alberta Education, 2007, p. 6) within a shared and collaborative space – wikis may be such a tool.

Videoconferencing: What is it?
Videoconferencing technology is a powerful tool to augment teaching and learning in the Alberta school system (Alberta Education, 2005, p. 3). Videoconferencing (VC) is a communications device which allows multiple sites to collaborate over the Internet. Prior to the 1990’s, videoconferencing was an expensive proposition and reserved for organizations like NASA. It wasn’t until the early 1990’s, when efficient compression techniques were produced, that videoconferencing technology could permeate via the internet. Efficient compression rate allows minimal component requirements which may contribute to videoconferencing's popularity. Some of these components include a webcam and microphone, speakers, display monitor, projector or interactive whiteboard, and a data transfer mechanism. Personal computers and cell phones also have the capacity to support videoconferencing by adding audio and video devices. According to the research completed for Alberta Education by Anderson and Rourke, “videoconferencing technology has been available since the 1950’s (Lochte, 1993), but until recently its role in public K-12 education has been marginal.” (Alberta Education, 2005, p. 5). With the implementation of the Supernet (the fiber optic network connecting all schools and libraries in Alberta), school authorities have the bandwidth capacity to connect with experts, peers, select educational services and specialized courses. As more authorities across the world invest in the wired and wireless fiber optic infrastructure, videoconferencing accessibility will continue to increase.
Videoconferencing may be able to ease some of the current challenges facing school authorities. Smaller and more remote authorities have challenges attracting teachers for specialty courses like French and high school sciences. VC has the potential to connect students with expert teachers at distant campuses. Furthermore, teachers are finding creative ways to augment its usefulness in schools. Educators are more effectively infusing the technology into the classroom to enhance learning opportunities (Alberta Education, 2006, p. 3). Videoconferencing allows students to share and co-create with experts and peers from around the world, including virtual field trips. Further still, this technology supports learners who are much more mobile. Many are now obtaining credit from secondary and post-secondary institutions through online courses which support videoconferencing offered literally throughout the world. Videoconferencing is an exciting advance which may transform practice and have a powerful impact on teaching and learning.
Another powerful advantage of VC technology is its potential for educators to connect with colleagues in ways that were not viable in the past. Since each school authority in Alberta has been provided government dollars to establish videoconference suites, it is a technology that already exists and is readily available. Within each of the six zones, there are videoconference leads - individual teachers trained in VC protocol who have release time to assist teachers and facilitate VC sessions. As such, videoconferencing provides an opportunity for practitioners to seek out professional development and co-create affinity-based communities of inquiry with colleagues locally, provincially, nationally, or even around the world. Should education ministries, school authorities and schools continue to invest in the development and maintenance of videoconferencing suites? Does the overall benefit of videoconferencing suites merit the cost in terms of time and money that is diverted from other worthwhile activities? In other words, what is the return on investment?
According to DuFour and Eaker (1998), the “most promising strategy for sustained, substantive school improvement is developing the ability of school personnel to function as professional learning communities.” (p. xi). DuFour and Eaker (1998) have identified that the “traditional approach to staff development is fragmented, unfocused, and does not address schoolwide problems or priorities.” (p. 256). They also state that “effective staff development does not look for the quick fix or the latest bandwagon. It fosters the pursuit of long-term training that results in individual mastery and organizational advancement” (p. 275).
Through my work with Alberta Education over the past two years, I have been invited to present at over seventy-five professional development conferences and teacher in-services across the province. During these presentations, there is seldom an opportunity to follow up with teachers, and the training is not sustained over an extended period of time to allow for absorption and mastery of the new skills. Goleman (2002) has called this the ‘Billion-Dollar Mistake’ (p. 235). In the U.S., companies spend up to one billion dollars a year on similar professional development practices. He describes it as “spray and pray: expose everybody to the training and hope it sticks to some.” (p. 246). Is there a more appropriate model?

Videoconferencing as a potential model?
Creating this context of job-embedded learning offers the most promising strategy for effective staff development. (DuFour & Eaker, 1998, p. 273)
Videoconferencing suites may be elaborate or basic. A deluxe arrangement may include elegant devices such as plasma screen displays, interactive whiteboards, digital surround sound, document cameras, sensitive microphones and multi-point remote controlled video/audio recording system. Participant training is essential for effective videoconferenced instruction, in order to operate these systems effectively. A technician may be hired to oversee and moderate the sessions if training is not available or impractical.
Likewise, VC suites may be as simple as a computer, webcam and a headset. This collection of equipment would be sufficient with small collaborations, and would be cost-effective and relatively easy for teachers to learn and master. In addition, with the onset of the Supernet, all schools in Alberta already have the bandwidth capacity to support videoconferencing with the basic equipment. VC suites may be as elaborate as the individual schools can afford. As such, the cost of the hardware and software should not be considered a limiting factor to establishing VC suites. Every school may profit from its potential to connect colleagues. The benefits of collaboration far outweigh the costs to equip the infrastructure to facilitate this type of PD. If costs can be controlled without substantially impacting effectiveness, does the on-the-job training warrant the investment if it takes away from other worthwhile activities in order to organize, coordinate, and maintain VC technology?
Videoconferencing is a technology which may augment professional investigation and collaboration within a community of inquiry. Participating within a vibrant community encourages teachers to connect with colleagues in an on-going basis throughout the school year. Below is an abstract of my own experience leading and facilitating a videoconference while seconded to Alberta Education with Biology teachers from across the province
Biology 20 – 30 Consultation via Videoconference
On January 25, 2007, from 1:00 to 3:30 p.m., I co-designed, lead and facilitated a consultation for Alberta Education via videoconference with seven high school Biology teachers from across the province. Including the Edmonton site, teachers gathered at two other locales – Camrose and Calgary. The purpose of the consultation was to obtain input and pedagogical guidance to the design and development of Biology digital learning resources to ensure they will be valuable tools for teaching and learning. I began the session by having each participant re-introduce themselves. All of the participants knew each other from of a face to face meeting held two months earlier. Consequently, there was a considerable degree of connectedness amongst the participants. Panos et al. (2002) discussed the notion of emotional bandwidth. “In general…emotional bandwidth refers to the amount of emotional understanding, contact, and support that can be transmitted.” (p. 428). Although videoconferencing provides several modes required for effective human communication, “it would be a disservice to describe video-conferencing as being the “same as” or “very similar” to classroom delivery. The real-time interactive capability of video-conferencing technology makes it the most similar of the distance education technologies to the real classroom – but it is still not the same.” (Alberta Education, 2006). Since videoconferencing does not produce the same emotional connectedness among members as a face-to-face encounter, it is important to have the community of inquiry meet at least once. This face-to-face will augment the social presence or emotional bandwidth among the members during the online portions, whether they are synchronous or asynchronous. As Goleman (1998, p. 251) discovered through his research and reported in Working with Emotional Intelligences, effective teaching and learning requires an emotional connection between the learners and/or teacher. However, that becomes more difficult at a distance. VC is less effective if its emotional bandwidth drops to the point where participants no longer feel in meaningful contact with the other participants. Through my own experience using VC, the critical emotional connections may be nurtured and emphasized by a facilitator. Just the same, there was already a high degree of social presence with this group. I reiterated that my role was to lead and facilitate the session, to identify and adhere to the objectives of the meeting, and keep the meeting on track.
I also identified that VC is not the same as a face-to-face meeting and we had to respect some guiding principles. One in particular being that only one individual may speak at a time. However, I had devised a method to ensure all participants were given equal opportunity to contribute to the dialogue. We would alternate between sites, consulting with each individual in the same order, but starting with a new participant at the beginning of each round of input. When a participant had finished talking, he needed to clearly indicate that he was finished. It became clear during the session that the moderator needed good leadership and facilitation skills.
Shortly after the sharing session got underway, participants began writing notes as they listened to their colleagues. In one instance, the teachers from Calgary were championing a video they often referenced and were familiar with. The teachers from Northern Alberta had never heard of the video and were very intrigued. This video was a typical resource for the Southern Alberta teachers. Without the opportunity to collaborate, this resource would not have been shared. The videoconference was a tool that contributed to peer learning. The quality of the discourse was incredibly rich not only for the project coordinator from Alberta Education, but for the participants as well.
At the conclusion of the workshop, participants were given a final opportunity to reflect on the process. Below are actual comments recorded from the session:
“Process is wonderful – the videoconference was almost as good as being there.”
“Great PD – listening to others.”
“Wonderful opportunity – amazing PD – feel very fortunate to be a part of it.”
“Could learn a lot about how to run things – lots of application in other areas – expand the format.”
“Absolutely fantastic! A good learning experience.”
“Should expand this into other areas – efficient use of technology to spread and share ideas.”
All participants agreed that the format was very powerful and everyone appreciated the opportunity to connect with colleagues. When I reflected on the event, I realized that I employed several principles of good design to facilitate the creation of a platform for participation. These principles included:
· leveraging computer mediated communication to enhance collaboration
· capitalizing on the synergies of group wisdom and social constructivist theory
· facilitated leadership
· the facilitator co-creates and nurtures the community of inquiry and
· ensuring the group was affinity based.
These steps contributed to participants’ ease to create real emotional connections that further enhanced the experience.
Why did the participants have such an authentically rich experience? Upon contemplation, I recognized that educators are not given time during the school day to connect with other subject experts, even if they are in a large high school with several Biology teachers. Subject matter experts (SME) are not connecting with colleagues as often as expected in a professional learning community. Moreover, in a school where there is only one SME per subject, there is limited opportunity to discuss pedagogy at the subject level with colleagues without leaving the school. Even in a large school, there is often only one specialty teacher (Foods or Construction, for example) who is eager to connect with colleagues. Co-creating affinity-based communities is a crucial component of professional development. The type of inquiry that the community is investigating will influence what it means by ‘affinity-based’. When considering school improvement at a provincial level, affinity-based may include any teacher. However, when exploring pedagogy, affinity-based may require that members of the community are all Biology 30 teachers. Identifying the level of granularity is crucial for the community to give rise to the cognitive discourse necessary to initiate the innovativeness required to tackle the core issues and challenges.
I was particularly pleased to hear that the participants were impressed with the effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction with the videoconferencing process. We encountered no technical complications. As Jacobsen (2000) points out, “training and time” (p. 136) is one of the essential conditions for effective implementation of the technology. In this instance, I received the training and the time to design, coordinate and facilitate the session which had considerable impact on the outcome. However, if I could learn how to facilitate these sessions, then why couldn’t teachers learn to use videoconferencing more frequently as a tool to connect with colleagues? This model seems reasonable, but there are challenges to be overcome before schools can effectively infuse it into the current system.

Does time and training warrant using VC technology?
When a district focuses on helping its educators develop their ability to function as members of a professional learning community, the district will realize the greatest dividends from its investment. (DuFour & Eaker, 1998, p. 272)
A great concern with implementing videoconferencing is that time and money will be taken away from other worthy educational pursuits. Since there is only so much to go around, something has to fall off the plate. However, which investments will realize the greatest dividends? In the case study presented above, I facilitated the session and called upon the skills of a VC expert. I devoted about five hours to prepare for the two hour session. We conducted the session on an afternoon following a diploma exam, so no substitute costs were incurred. Since the VC suites already existed, travelling costs were kept to a minimum, we were able to conduct the videoconference for less than $100/participant.
De Cicco (1997) has identified that teachers will require training to effectively utilize the technology. Professionals must be given time within the school day/year to connect with colleagues. Through my informal research, I have found that two hours was an appropriate amount of time for teachers to meet in one session. Using this time allotment, one could conclude that a ½ day is required for the teacher to conduct the pre-conference preparation and the post-conference debriefing. How will school authorities find the money and time to allow teachers to participate in videoconference PD? Currently, schools do assign a portion of the budget to PD. From my observations, a portion of this money is being spent at teacher conferences. Alberta Education budgets between $500 - $600/day to cover a teacher's substitute costs, mileage, accommodation and subsistence when they are brought for consultations. A two day conference (including conference fees) would therefore cost about $1500. The average cost to hire a substitute for a half-day in the province is about $125. For $1250, one could hire 10 half-day substitutes, allowing a community of inquiry to collaborate once a month throughout the school year, without extra cost to the system.
DuFour and Eaker (1998) identified that “The National Staff Development Council (NSDC) has worked in cooperation with eleven other national education organizations to identify standards for professional development that provide benchmarks by which schools can assess their programs.” (p. 256). From these standards, DuFour and Eaker (1998) endorse that schools should provide “time in the school day and school year for teachers to work together on issues of teaching and learning” (p. 270). Furthermore, “The process of staff development is sustained over a considerable period of time. Mastery takes time, and teachers benefit when there is a sustained, multi-year commitment to training.” (p. 266). My experience has revealed that some of the best PD occurs when teachers are given time to collaborate. How should funds be distributed to ensure the greatest benefit and overall utility for everyone in the community? I contend that providing an in-service instructing teachers how to use VC technology is well worth the investment in PD. This instruction will have further benefit if the teacher can leverage the training to use the technology for purposes other than collaborating with colleagues like virtual field trips, ask an expert, or connecting with other classrooms around the province/world.

What’s the Return on Investment?
Collaboration and teamwork are fundamental to good staff development practice. Effective models help break down the isolation and we/they barriers that are so destructive to growth. (DuFour & Eaker, 1998, p. 275)
The question that has been posed is whether the benefits of videoconferencing merit the input of resources (specifically time and money) to justify the investment. If maximizing every dollar of professional development is paramount for school authorities and professional learning communities, then one would question whether the fragmented and unfocused traditional approach is yielding the expected return on investment. On the contrary, if “the pursuit of long-term training that results in individual mastery and organizational advancement” (DuFour & Eaker, 1998, p. 275) is essential in this time of shrinking budgets and rising costs, then the research would indicate that videoconferencing is a viable and valuable component of a professional development plan. A further benefit may be realized if the time investment needed to learn the technology can be leveraged for further purposes which enable specialized learning communities to emerge. Due to videoconferencing’s enhanced emotional bandwidth capabilities over other synchronous or asynchronous communication tools, highly specialized professional development communities may emerge throughout the province where participants may explore specific topics in great detail. The capital costs to initiate effective collaboration may be minimized without impeding effectiveness. Even though money and time may be channeled from other school initiatives, effective and sustaining professional development has an overall net benefit to the school community and outweighs the input costs. If school administrators champion the tenets of effective professional development which align with the principles of a professional learning community, then teachers will appreciate videoconference’s roles and contributions to a solid, timely and long-term return on investment.

Wikis and Videoconference – Two Elements of a Platform for Participation
Wikis and videoconference technology are only two examples of online tools a moderator may employ when designing and integrating platforms for participation to facilitate the co-creation of a community of critical inquiry. Regardless of the tool, there is evidence to suggest that a skilled facilitator is required to design strategies for maximizing the art and craft of collaboration to inspire high levels of cognitive discourse and enrich innovation.

Computer Mediated Communication and Social Constructivism
Distance education and online instruction has increased threefold from 10% in 2001 to 30% in 2006 (Industry Report, 2006) of the total industry training. Whether synchronous or asynchronous, computer-mediated collaborative learning is a powerful method that “contributes to the learning process” (Schrire, 2004, p. 494) and may also engage learners in sociocognitive approaches and meaningful knowledge co-construction (Garrison, Anderson, Archer, 2000). On the other hand, the research has also revealed that inadequate development of the cognitive, social and teaching presence are likely the key issues that have a negative impact on learners’ social, cognitive and emotional well-being (Alberta Education, 2006; Alberta Teachers’ Association, 2006; Anderson & Rourke, 2005; Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2000; Ertl, Fischer & Mandl, 2004; Edmondson, 2005; Lock, 2006; Martin, 2005; Panos et al., 2002; Perry & Edwards, 2005). The research also illustrates that regardless of the delivery medium (Bozkaya, 2008; Clark & Meyer, 2008), a trained moderator who can facilitate the co-creation of communities of critical inquiry is the key variable to heighten participants’ cognitive presence and optimize the potential of computer-mediated collaborative learning tools (Clark & Meyer, 2008; Collins, Brown, and Holum, 1991; Collison et al, 2000; del Valle et al, 2004; Garrison, 2008; Garrison & Cleveland-Innes, 2005; Kanuka, Rourke, & Laflamme, 2007; Lajoie et al, 2006; Mykota & Duncan, 2007; Pawan et al, 2003; Rourke, Garrison, & Archer, 2001; Salmon, 1998). Since the onus of successful online experiences for learners rests so pivotally on the facilitation skills of the moderator, what guiding principles should she adopt to ensure a socially and cognitively stimulating experience for online participants? There are universal strategies that the facilitator may incorporate into the development of the online environment. Central to these principles is a focus on effective facilitation skills to establish teaching presence (Anderson et al, 2001; Aragon, 2003; Collins, Brown, & Holum, 1991; Collison et al, 2000; del Valle et al, 2004; Garrison & Cleveland-Innes, 2005; Hutchins, 2003; Mykota & Duncan, 2007; Moisey, Neu, & Cleveland-Innes, 2008; Pawan et al, 2003; Salmon, 1998; Schrire, 2004; Wang & Woo, 2007). Capitalizing on the principles of effective facilitation and teaching presence, the moderator may focus on socially and cognitively stimulating activities to further enrich the learning experience. Within the sociocognitive domain, specific psychological theories will be investigated including situated cognition model, social constructivism, and cognitive constructivism to connect psychological theory and educational technology. Based on effective facilitation and psychological theory, possible solutions for alleviating the negative impacts that may arise from an inadequate development of the cognitive, social and teaching presence when employing computer-mediated collaborative learning will be presented.
Collaboration Facilitator
Acquiring and utilizing good facilitation skills to guide discourse and establish a strong teaching presence is crucial to engage learners in cognitively stimulating activities and knowledge creation (del Valle et al, 2004; Garrison, 2008; Lajoie et al, 2006; Mykota & Duncan, 2007; Pawan et al, 2003; Preece, Nonnecke, & Andrews (2004); Rourke, & Laflamme, 2007; Salmon, 1998). Pawan et al (2003) has witnessed that without effective facilitation of the discourse, participants will post “serial monologues” (p. 119) and will not engage in elevated collaborative cognitive activities. Kanuka & Anderson (1998) further reinforce the importance of a collaboration facilitator as they found that although there was considerable amount of discussion in online forums; most of it was casual in nature with low cognitive value. Since high level cognition is thought to be dialogical and a collaborative process, it is crucial that the moderator facilitate meaningful interaction or the benefits of synchronous and asynchronous computer-mediated collaborative learning may go unfulfilled (Schrire, 2004). Schrire (2004) has described Vygotsky’s vision that effective knowledge co-construction is a social event and why collaboration is such an integral feature of online learning. From a social constructivist perspective, the moderator’s function is to facilitate this higher order cognitive thinking by capitalizing on the collaborative features of synchronous and asynchronous technologies. Garrison (2008) has portrayed the collaboration facilitator's role as “direct facilitation” (p. 32) and the “weaving of both social and cognitive presence” (p. 29). Although online facilitation is a craft, it is based upon principles and guidelines that may be developed and taught (Collison et al, 2000). For instance, the moderator scaffolds sociocognitive activity by facilitating discourse (Lajoie et al, 2006). She achieves this by overtly framing questions (Pawan et al, 2003) and regularly contributing to the discourse so she may guide the students to trigger integration and resolution type contributions. Essentially, the moderator must assume more of a ‘guide on the side’ (Collison et al, 2000) approach to facilitating both synchronous and asynchronous discourse. Engaging a collaboration facilitator is crucial for high levels of cognition, knowledge co-construction, and a meaningful learning experience to evolve. Before beginning any session, whether synchronous or asynchronous, it's important to establish a set of guiding principles. Below is a sample set I used to establish the participant expectations during any group session. These guiding principles were originally taken from a facilitator training workshop I attended. It was facilitated by Jo Nelson from ICA Associates.
Guiding Principles: (with explanation of each in parentheses)
1. Everyone has wisdom. (This doesn't mean everything that everyone says is wise. It means that behind what they say is wisdom and we will listen for it.)
2. We need everyone's wisdom for the wisest result. (We look at everyone's wisdom as a candle. Each illuminates a portion of the territory. Bringing multiple candles together, there will be overlap. However, all the candles together will illuminate more of the territory than could be possible with only one. That doesn't mean that it illuminates all the territory, just what is possible with the individuals who are present - and that's what the group will have to work with.)
3. There are no wrong answers. (See number 1 - behind what may seem on the surface as a wrong answer, there is wisdom. The corollary, of course, is that there are no right answers, only the best we can come up with given our limitations.)
4. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. (Suggests that consensus creates a larger answer that is not identical to any one view, but includes the wisdom of many. Like a diamond, the more facets, the more brilliant it becomes. Compromise is smaller than the sum of its parts, consensus as larger.)
5. Everyone will hear others and be heard. (This doesn't mean that everyone has to talk all the time - then nobody would be heard. It means listening to others as well as making sure your wisdom is on the table. It is the facilitator's responsibility to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to be heard. One of Covey's seven habits is to seek first to understand then to be understood. In other words, we were given two ears and one mouth and suspect we were expected to use them in that proportion.)
Teaching Presence
With face-to-face instruction, there are many techniques and strategies an instructor may incorporate to engage her students in higher levels of cognitive discourse. The same holds true for synchronous and asynchronous computer-mediated mediums. To discuss all the cognitively intensifying approaches would not be appropriate here, but the most strongly supported strategies will be presented. The development of a powerful teaching presence within a computer-mediated collaborative learning environment includes maintaining a reasonable teacher-student ratio (Aragon, 2003; Hutchins, 2003). Moderators should incorporate small group and social constructivist learning to build upon socially shared cognitive development (Aragon, 2003; Garrison, 2006). For example, audio and ‘podcasts’ should be incorporated whenever presenting graphics. (Aragon, 2003; Clark & Meyer, 2008) As Clark and Meyer (2008) describe as the Modality Principle, learners can process new information more effectively when multiple channels are utilized simultaneously. Many have reported that a crucial role for the moderator is to regularly contribute to the discourse and provide frequent feedback (Anderson et al, 2001; Aragon, 2003; Collins, Brown, & Holum, 1991; Mykota & Duncan, 2007; Salmon, 1998; Wang & Woo, 2007). Kanuka & Anderson (1998) identified that the majority of informal, unmoderated online discourse is socially casual or at best, is a set of serial monologues (Pawan et al, 2003). Furthermore, “teaching presence contributes to the adoption of a deep approach to learning and that interaction by itself does not” (Garrison & Cleveland-Innes, 2005, p. 140). Depending on the type of psychological learning theory she subscribes, she will have to facilitate and guide the discussion so the learning goals are achieved. This may include:

· encouraging debate
· probing into an issue
· drawing out less active participants
· curtailing those who dominate
· encouraging reflection
· challenging assumptions
· breaking down complex issues to manageable bits
· synthesizing threads
· sustaining cognitive presence
· ensuring progressive discourse
· reflecting on commonalities/differences
· situating the abstract into concrete
· focusing and shaping discussions
· and structuring the educational design to maximize the social and cognitive experience. (Anderson et al, 2001; Aragon, 2003; Collins, Brown, & Holum, 1991; del Valle et al, 2004, Garrison, 2006; Mykota & Duncan, 2007; Salmon, 1998; Wang & Woo, 2007).
In addition, the moderator will want to model the expectations of the desired cognitive richness, length, and timelines for participants’ contributions. (Anderson et al, 2001; Garrison & Cleveland-Innes, 2005; Pawan et al, 2003; Salmon, 1998) Student-instructor ratios, collaborative learning, regular contributions to discussion and modeling expectations are important teaching presence activities which provide the framework for a strong social presence.

Social Presence
“Social presence is an essential precondition for establishing a sense of community and cognitive presence.” (Garrison, 2008, p. 26) This statement is supported by research that reveals cognitive performance, learning outcomes, and the participants’ overall educational experience is directly correlated to the sense of community and sustained social presence (Anderson et al, 2001; Aragon, 2003; Garrison & Cleveland-Innes, 2005; Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000; Mikropoulos & Strouboulis, 2004; Mykota & Duncan, 2007; Rovai, 2002). Social presence may be enhanced by attempting to connect and create a sense of belonging.
Online moderators must facilitate the building of a sense of belonging among learners in online groups before they have to work together in a distributed learning environment. (Michinov, Michinov, & Toczek-Capelle, 2004, p. 36)
This should include introducing oneself, as the moderator should model the length and depth of detail of the discussion; uploading digital pictures, sharing interests and reasons for taking/goals for the course. To further sustain social presence, the facilitator will assign participants to small groups for the duration of the course. Over time, the moderator will reduce interaction with the cohort, delegating increasing responsibility to the students to further develop social interaction and group cohesion in support of the learning goals. Building trust, a sense of community, and group processes that will motivate members to participate in higher level cognitive interactions must be an intentionally planned design feature and facilitated by the moderator (Mykota and Duncan, 2007). As the research discloses, facilitated, enhanced and sustained social presence will lead to elevated sociocognitive activities and cognitively enhanced learner participation.
Psychological Theory and Cognitive Presence
The ultimate goal within a learning context is to achieve the desired outcomes through the facilitation of higher level social cognition. Vygotsky (1978) has described knowledge co-construction to be a social process and is augmented through the relationships which occur between individuals. This theory is in contrast to a more Piaget perspective of cognitive constructivism where learning is thought to be an individual pursuit (Bonk & Cunningham, 1998). However, Bagi & Crooks (2001) conclude that there is a relationship between social and individual processes when negotiating knowledge co-construction. It is for this reason that computer-mediated collaborative learning is such a powerful tool to engage students. Schrire (2004) has asserted that collaborative instructional strategies are more effective than those that are individually based. Palinscar (1998) also declares that knowledge is co-constructed within a collaborative structure. Dabbagh & Bannan-Ritland (2005) refer to a situated cognition model of “mind as a rhizome” (p. 165) metaphor. This metaphor is used to describe how knowledge is shared and distributed across several minds. The goal of a socially interactive technology is to connect these minds to facilitate a heightened cognitive discourse and knowledge construction. Kanuka & Anderson (1998) and Pawan et al (2003) both report that left to their own devices, most collaboration among online participants falls well short of enlightened and enriched cognition. Consequently, a moderator’s key role is to facilitate a cognitively rich discourse and knowledge co-construction among participants by leveraging the sociocognitive potential of the computer-mediated communication tools.
Online learning, training, and teaching have seen a dramatic increase in the last few years. Computer-mediated collaborative learning is proving increasingly popular with learners. However, there have been growing pains with this new delivery method. Maximizing its potential as a vehicle for promoting collaboration and capitalizing on sociocognitive strategies to achieve learning outcomes is a key goal for moderators and instructors. The research has provided specific strategies and over-arching principles based upon effective facilitation and psychological theory to alleviate or avoid the negative impacts due to inadequate development of the cognitive, social and teaching presence. Since the ultimate goal of an online experience is to create a cognitively stimulating experience for learners and participants, how does a moderator facilitate the co-construction of knowledge and a community of critical inquiry? Through effective facilitation skills and a focus on social constructivist pedagogy, a moderator may learn the specific strategies and principles to nurture the teaching, social and cognitive presence necessary to develop a cognitively elevated learning experience. Acquiring and utilizing effective facilitation skills to guide discourse and establish a strong teaching presence is crucial to engage learners in knowledge co-construction. As moderators begin to internalize and perfect these sociocognitive teaching and learning strategies, the utilization of computer-mediated collaborative learning will continue to flourish in the years to come.

What will drive innovation and creativity in the 21st century? How will leaders bring value and address the organization's challenges in an ever increasingly complex world? The new asset for today's organizations is mass collaboration and platforms for participation. Individuals working in concert will bring the competitive advantage. A key component will be collaboration facilitators who leverage computer mediated communication to co-create communities of critical inquiry. Self-organizaed or managed communities will flourish when the moderator embraces the art and craft of collaboration to engage members in cognitive discourse.

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