I was reading the very interesting article from Douglas Thomas and John Brown in the newly formed IJLM online (http://ijlm.net/missives/doi/abs/10.1162/ijlm.2009.0008) : Why Virtual Worlds Can Matter.
Their description of guilds within World of Warcraft (the study of which is not new of course: see Steinkuehler 2004, Dave White’s Community Development in the Pursuit of Dragon Slaying and several others) really grabbed me though.
For those not in the know, serious World of Warcraft (WoW, or any of the other massive multiplayer online roleplaying games, or MMORPs) players form into groups or guilds, and work together in these units to solve bigger problems, fight larger battles, and generally enjoy the community aspect of the game (which can sometimes extend into real life meetings etc.).
Thomas and Brown suggest, from a study of WoW, that individuals within these guilds solve small problems or make small discoveries (such as finding out how a particular magic artefact works) – they then pass on this discovery to others in the guild, hence sharing knowledge across the community. But then comes the good bit. In doing so, other members of the guild will apply their own thinking and skills to the problem and solution, improving on or widening the original solution to make it more effective or applicable (such as casting a particular spell when using the artefact to boost its power). Solutions are therefore improved over time, re-shared across the guild, and recorded for future use.
It really excited me to think about this in terms of student groups. The idea that each individual student could solve a small problem, but then share that with their peers, who would use their own skills and contexts to adapt and improve the solution; but always ensuring that the group as a whole knew the latest solution, the history and the applicability for the future.
Instead of understanding magic artefacts, imagine that the problems are related to research skills or problems, induction issues, or pertinent subject disccussions. Each student in a group gets to work on one of the problems/issues, but all students get to see and apply/improve all of the problems over time, forming a community of practice as they do so.
Now, for somewhere to put this idea into practice…