We’ve had a regular series where CPsquare members and friends go on a virtual field trip to observe something about a community of practice, it’s activities, technologies, or challenges.  Today Sylvia Currie (who wrote a wonderful report and reflection on this session) and I organized something new — a group of CPsquare members watched two videos on YouTube together using Google-Plus.  The idea of watching videos together has a lot of potential although G+ Hangouts seemed a bit messy at this point.  It’s those small things like not being able to easily control who joins the Hangout that can create confusion.  We experience several surprises:

  • It worked perfectly for some: I selected the video, started it for everyone and could pause it at any point. People watching it could enter comments in the chat or talk over the video.  But you can only watch videos that are on YouTube, so some of the videos from Pepperdine students that we would have considered for watching were excluded because of where they’d been published.
  • Even with a uniformly experienced group with consistently high bandwidth and technology, there were some puzzling differences in experience.  When someone speaks, their image jumps to the center of the screen — but their own screen doesn’t show that!  Videos showed up on the main screen for some people but were in a completely other window for some.  If you have the “video” tab clicked on it shows a “related videos” message after a video has finished. But people who did not have the video tab clicked on saw the regular behavior: the face of the speaker (or recent speaker), jumps up to the center screen as the discussion proceeds.
  • I take detailed notes in the chat (and encourage others to join me in that practice).  Since my keyboard is loud enough to be distracting during a conversation, I keep muting myself and have to un-mute to speak: it’s really clumsy to do that without a keyboard shortcut of some sort.

Bottom line: although there are clumsy things about it, having YouTube play a video for a small group opens up a lot of really cool possibilities.

Here is the agenda that Sylvia Currie and I had come up with:

In your check-in, give your name, location, and briefly describe any prior experiences attempting to get a group to “observe a CoP”?

After watching each video, we took the following questions one at a time:

  • What did we see?
  • Comment on the specific community that’s presented — What does it imply about “communities of practice”?
  • What’s not shown?  What’s not visible?
  • As a result of our watching together, what do we see about our own blind spots?

We watched two videos:

Our wrap-up question was: what are some useful and meaningful ways to look at CoPs together?

Here is my list of take-aways:

  • Access matters a lot: we’re not allowed to observe some communities (others may need to observe them on our behalf) or their business is so foreign to us that we can’t even understand what they’re about.  The best we can do is get incrementally closer.
  • Active and successful communities frequently have a support structure in the background that is invisible unless you look for it (which you might not do unless you understand something about the community itself).
  • Individual interactions or specific roles are more easily observed than a community as a whole, but it’s that community context that gives meaning to the observable stuff.
  • A community leader or convener or tech steward can see connections or relationships between people or tools that other community members may not be able to see (and that an outsider might not have access to).