Archive for the ‘Communities of Practice’ Category

Pick up Python

Saturday, February 7th, 2015

Pick up Python by Jeffrey M. Perkel. (Nature 518, 125–126 (05 February 2015) doi:10.1038/518125a)

From the post:

Last month, Adina Howe took up a post at Iowa State University in Ames. Officially, she is an assistant professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering. But she works not in the greenhouse, but in front of a keyboard. Howe is a programmer, and a key part of her job is as a ‘data professor’ — developing curricula to teach the next generation of graduates about the mechanics and importance of scientific programming.

Howe does not have a degree in computer science, nor does she have years of formal training. She had a PhD in environmental engineering and expertise in running enzyme assays when she joined the laboratory of Titus Brown at Michigan State University in East Lansing. Brown specializes in bioinformatics and uses computation to extract meaning from genomic data sets, and Howe had to get up to speed on the computational side. Brown’s recommendation: learn Python.

Among the host of computer-programming languages that scientists might choose to pick up, Python, first released in 1991 by Dutch programmer Guido van Rossum, is an increasingly popular (and free) recommendation. It combines simple syntax, abundant online resources and a rich ecosystem of scientifically focused toolkits with a heavy emphasis on community.

The community aspect is particularly important to Python’s growing adoption. Programming languages are popular only if new people are learning them and using them in diverse contexts, says Jessica McKellar, a software-engineering manager at the file-storage service Dropbox and a director of the Python Software Foundation, the non-profit organization that promotes and advances the language. That kind of use sets up a “virtuous cycle”, McKellar says: new users extend the language into new areas, which in turn attracts still more users.

Curious what topic mappers make of the description of the community aspects of Python?

I ask because more sematically opaque Big Data comes online everyday and there have been rumblings about needing a solution. A solution that I think topic maps are well suited to provide.

BTW, R folks should not feel slighted: Adventures with R by Sylvia Tippmann. (Nature 517, 109–110 (01 January 2015) doi:10.1038/517109a)

Accidental vs Deliberate Context

Saturday, December 27th, 2014

Accidental vs Deliberate Context by Jessica Kerr.

From the post:

In all decisions, we bring our context with us. Layers of context, from what we read about that morning to who our heroes were growing up. We don’t realize how much context we assume in our communications, and in our code.

One time I taught someone how to make the Baby Vampire face. It involves poking out both corners of my lower lip, so they stick up like poky gums. Very silly. To my surprise, the person couldn’t do it. They could only poke one side of the lower lip out at a time.

Turns out, few outside my family can make this face. My mom can do it, my sister can do it, my daughters can do it – so it came as a complete surprise to me when someone couldn’t. There is a lip-flexibility that’s part of my context, always has been, and I didn’t even realize it.

Jessica goes on to illustrate that communication depends upon the existence of some degree of shared context and that additional context can be explained to others, as on a team.

She distinguishes between “incidental” shared contexts and “deliberate” shared contexts. Incidental contexts arising from family or long association with friends. Common/shared experiences form an incidental context.

Deliberate contexts, on the other hand, are the intentional melding of a variety of contexts, in her examples, the contexts of biologists and programmers. Who at the outset, lacked a common context in which to communicate.

Forming teams with diverse backgrounds is a way to create a “deliberate” context, but my question would be how to preserve that “deliberate” context for others? It becomes an “incidental” context if others must join the team in order to absorb the previously “deliberate” context. If that is a requirement, then others will not be able to benefit from deliberately created contexts in which they did not participate.

If the process and decisions made in forming a “deliberate” context were captured by a topic map, then others could apply this “new” deliberate context to develop other “deliberate” contexts. Perhaps some of the decisions or mappings made would not suit another “deliberate” context but perhaps some would. And perhaps other “deliberate” contexts would evolve beyond the end of their inputs.

The point being that unless these “deliberate” contexts are captured, to whatever degree of granularity is desired, every “deliberate” context for say biologists and programmers is starting off at ground zero. Have you ever heard of a chemistry experiment starting off by recreating the periodic table? I haven’t. Perhaps we should abandon that model in the building of “deliberate” contexts as well.

Not to mention that re-usable “deliberate” contexts might enable greater diversity in teams.

Topic maps anyone?

PS: I suggest topic maps to capture “deliberate” context because topic maps are not constrained by logic. You can capture any subject and any relationship between subjects, logical or not. For example, a user of a modern dictionary, which lists words in alphabetical order, would be quite surprised if given a dictionary of Biblical Hebrew and asked to find a word (assuming they know the alphabet). The most common dictionaries of Biblical Hebrew list words by their roots and not as they appear to the common reader. There are arguments to be made for each arrangement but neither one is a “logical” answer.

The arrangement of dictionaries is another example of differing contexts. With a topic map I can offer a reader whichever Biblical Hebrew dictionary is desired, with only one text underlying both displays. As opposed to the printed version which can offer only one context or another.

Letter to a Young Haskell Enthusiast [No Haskell Required for Reading]

Friday, August 1st, 2014

Letter to a Young Haskell Enthusiast by Gershom Bazerman.

From an introduction before the letter:

The following letter is not about what “old hands” know and newcomers do not. Instead, it is about lessons that we all need to learn more than once, and remind ourselves of. It is about tendencies that are common, and understandable, and come with the flush of excitement of learning any new thing that we understand is important, and about the difficulty, always, in trying to decide how best to convey that excitement and sense of importance to others, in a way that they will listen. It is written more specifically, but only because I have found that if we don’t talk specifics as well as generalities, the generalities make no sense. This holds for algebraic structures, and it holds for other, vaguer concepts no less. It is a letter full of things I want to remember, as well as of advice I want to share. I expect I will want to remind myself of it when I encounter somebody who is wrong on the internet, which, I understand, may occur on rare occasion. (emphasis in original)

Extremely good advice on being a contributing member of a community, on or offline.

Share it and calendar it for regular re-reading.

Communities of Practice

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

Communities of Practice: a brief introduction by Etienne Wenger.

Etienne Wenger is the originator of the term “communities of practice,” although he concedes the social act it names is quite old:

The term “community of practice” is of relatively recent coinage, even though the phenomenon it refers to is age-old. The concept has turned out to provide a useful perspective on knowing and learning. A growing number of people and organizations in various sectors are now focusing on communities of practice as a key to improving their performance.

This brief and general introduction examines what communities of practice are and why researchers and practitioners in so many different contexts find them useful as an approach to knowing and learning.

What are communities of practice?

Communities of practice are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavor: a tribe learning to survive, a band of artists seeking new forms of expression, a group of engineers working on similar problems, a clique of pupils defining their identity in the school, a network of surgeons exploring novel techniques, a gathering of first-time managers helping each other cope. In a nutshell:

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.

Note that this definition allows for, but does not assume, intentionality: learning can be the reason the community comes together or an incidental outcome of member’s interactions. Not everything called a community is a community of practice. A neighborhood for instance, is often called a community, but is usually not a community of practice.

Etienne’s post is a good summary of his work with pointers to additional resources if you are interested in the details.

For any number of circumstances, but particularly professional activities, I suspect the term “community of practice” will resonate with potential users/customers.

Be aware that “communities of practice” is a narrower term than interpretive communities, which was coined by Stanley Fish.

Not for actual encounters with clients but good training for the same:

Do you think interpretative communities or communities of practice are more useful in developing a model to be represented as a topic map? Why? Choosing one, discuss how you would develop such a model? (Who you would ask, what you would ask, etc.)

Interconnection of Communities of Practice: A Web Platform for Knowledge Management

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Interconnection of Communities of Practice: A Web Platform for Knowledge Management by Elise Garrot-Lavoué (LIESP).


Our works aim at developing a Web platform to connect various Communities of Practice (CoPs) and to capitalise on all their knowledge. This platform addresses CoPs interested in a same general activity, for example tutoring. For that purpose, we propose a general model of Interconnection of Communities of Practice (ICP), based on the concept of Constellation of Practice (CCP) developed by Wenger (1998). The model of ICP was implemented and has been used to develop the TE-Cap 2 platform which has, as its field of application, educational tutoring activities. In particular, we propose an indexation and search tool for the ICP knowledge base. The TE-Cap 2 platform has been used in real conditions. We present the main results of this descriptive investigation to validate this work.

I started reading this article because of the similarity of “Communities of Practice (CoPs)” to Jack Park’s “tribes,” which Jack uses to describe different semantic communities. Then I ran across:

The most important difficulty to overcome is to arouse interactions between persons except any frame imposed by an organisation. For that purpose, it is necessary to bring them to become aware that they have shared practices and to provide the available means to get in touch with people from different CoPs.
(emphasis added)

Admittedly the highlighted sentence would win no prizes for construction but I think its intent is clear. I would restate it as:

The most important difficulty is enabling interactions between persons across the structures of their Communities of Practice (CoPs).

Communities of Practice (CoPs) can be and often are based in organizations, such as employers, I think it is important to not limit the idea of such communities to formal organizational structures, which some CoPs may transcend. The project uses “Interconnection of Communities of Practice (ICP)” to describe communication that transcends institutional barriers.

The other modification I made was to make it clear that it is enabling of interactions is the goal. Creating a framework of interactions isn’t the goal. Unless the interactions emerge from the members of the CoPs, then all we have is a set of interactions imposed on the CoPs and their members.

I need to look at more Communities of Practice (CoPs) literature because I wonder if ontologies are seen as the product of a community, as opposed to be the basis for a community itself?

I have done some quick searches on “Communities of Practice (CoPs)” and as with all things connected to topic maps, there is a vast sea of literature. 😉