[Air-L] Longitudinal qualitative analysis of CMC

rsadler rsadler at uiuc.edu
Thu Jan 31 05:52:44 PST 2008


The topic you are interested in would be very suited to a Communities of 
Practice approach. This definition is from the website of Etienne Wenger 
(http://www.ewenger.com/theory/index.htm). He and Jean Lave came up with 
the term. As you can see from the definition, CoP is about how groups 
form and develop, which seems to be what you are interested in. As for 
specific research methodologies, I'd also recommend looking at sources 
like Murielle Saville-Troike's "Ethnography of Communication." While 
this does not specifically deal with on-line activity, the methodologies 
are still quite relevant/adaptable.

Three characteristics are crucial:

   1. */ The domain:
      /* A community of practice is not merely a club of friends or a
      network of connections between people. It has an identity defined
      by a shared domain of interest. Membership therefore implies a
      commitment to the domain, and therefore a shared competence that
      distinguishes members from other people. (You could belong to the
      same network as someone and never know it.) The domain is not
      necessarily something recognized as "expertise" outside the
      community. A youth gang may have developed all sorts of ways of
      dealing with their domain: surviving on the street and maintaining
      some kind of identity they can live with. They value their
      collective competence and learn from each other, even though few
      people outside the group may value or even recognize their expertise.
   2. */ The community:
      /* In pursuing their interest in their domain, members engage in
      joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share
      information. They build relationships that enable them to learn
      from each other. A website in itself is not a community of
      practice. Having the same job or the same title does not make for
      a community of practice unless members interact and learn
      together. The claims processors in a large insurance company or
      students in American high schools may have much in common, yet
      unless they interact and learn together, they do not form a
      community of practice. But members of a community of practice do
      not necessarily work together on a daily basis. The
      Impressionists, for instance, used to meet in cafes and studios to
      discuss the style of painting they were inventing together. These
      interactions were essential to making them a community of practice
      even though they often painted alone.
   3. */ The practice:
      /* A community of practice is not merely a community of
      interest--people who like certain kinds of movies, for instance.
      Members of a community of practice are practitioners. They develop
      a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools,
      ways of addressing recurring problems—in short a shared practice.
      This takes time and sustained interaction. A good conversation
      with a stranger on an airplane may give you all sorts of
      interesting insights, but it does not in itself make for a
      community of practice. The development of a shared practice may be
      more or less self-conscious. The "windshield wipers" engineers at
      an auto manufacturer make a concerted effort to collect and
      document the tricks and lessons they have learned into a knowledge
      base. By contrast, nurses who meet regularly for lunch in a
      hospital cafeteria may not realize that their lunch discussions
      are one of their main sources of knowledge about how to care for
      patients. Still, in the course of all these conversations, they
      have developed a set of stories and cases that have become a
      shared repertoire for their practice. 

Randall Sadler

Ulrike Pfeil wrote:
> Hello everybody,
> I am interested in doing longitudinal qualitative analysis of asynchronous online communities in order to analyse the development of the online community over time (e.g. looking at how people develop a sense of community, how communication and interaction patterns change over time, how people take on or abandon certain roles within the community etc.). 
> However, I am having a hard time finding methodological guidance on how to go about it (the longitudinal part). Does anybody have experience with longitudinal qualitative analysis of CMC or can recommend literature that might help me? Any help would be greatly appreciated!
> Kind regards,
> Uli

Randall Sadler
Assistant Professor
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Division of English as an International Language
3080 Foreign Languages Building, MC-172
707 S. Mathews
Urbana, IL 61801

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