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S05 E05 – Communities of Practice

Today we talk to Julie Keane and Mark Otter from – a platform and service designed to support and operationalize Communities of Practice.

Julie and Marks’s favourite books

  • Anne Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • Underworld by Don DeLillo
  • Power Broker by Robert A. Caro
  • The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler

Find all of our guests’ reading recommendations at our The Tao of WAO book club.



Important note: this is a lightly-edited AI transcription of the conversation. If you require verbatim quotations, please double-check against the audio!

Laura Hilliger: [00:00:21] Hello and welcome to the Tao of WAO, a podcast about the intersection of technology, society and internet culture with a dash of philosophy and art for good measure. I’m Laura Hilliger.

Doug Belshaw: [00:00:33] And I’m Doug Belshaw. This podcast season is currently partially unfunded. You can support this podcast and other. We are open projects and products at open

Laura Hilliger: [00:00:45] So if you have been listening to this season, season five of the Dao of Wow, you know that we’ve been talking with loads of people who know something about the very broad subject of learning.

Doug Belshaw: [00:00:58] Yeah, that’s right. And so today we’ve got some of our best clients we’ve ever had. Mark Otter and Julie Keen from Participate to come and talk about learning within communities of practice. So that’s going to kind of be the the wide frame for today’s discussion and we’re going to go in lots different directions. But we’re going to start with our first question. Laura. What’s our first question?

Laura Hilliger: [00:01:21] It’s always the same and we’re going to start with you, Julie. What is your favourite book?

Julie Keane: [00:01:26] Okay. This was very difficult because I would say my first actual favourite book is Anna Karenina. That will go without saying. But the other book that’s really my favourite is Don DeLillo’s underworld, because as many folks probably know, I’m from New York City and there’s like a hidden just dude in there that’s from like the 20th century. So a lot of books about dudes from Brooklyn are kind of just a thing. I gravitate towards. And Underworld is an amazing book about. It sort of takes the history of trying to find the baseball that was hit in the famous Giants game in the 50s in New York City, and it’s a really great book. So that’s my favourite nice today.

Laura Hilliger: [00:02:15] How about you, Mark?

Mark Otter: [00:02:17] Did they find the baseball, Julie?

Laura Hilliger: [00:02:19] That’d be a spoiler.

Mark Otter: [00:02:21] That’d be a spoiler. Spoiler alert. Bleep it out, though. Maybe we’ve learned about that. I think, like, mine’s the apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. Don’t know if you’ve ever heard of that book by Mordecai Richler. Um, you know, growing up as a Canadian boy, that was kind of like the story of a Canadian boy growing up in Montreal. And I don’t know. I think every once in a while I take a step back and look at the impact it had on my life. And I’m a little bit surprised and find it quite a bit remarkable. So I’ve literally.

Doug Belshaw: [00:02:55] Never heard of this book, which surprises me a lot. The apprenticeship of.

Mark Otter: [00:03:01] Of Duddy Kravitz.

Doug Belshaw: [00:03:03] Duddy Kravitz. And what’s it about? Like a coming of age story?

Mark Otter: [00:03:06] Yeah, it’s like this young, young man growing up, young boy growing up in in in Montreal. And, you know, his grandfather has says to him, you know, a man without land is nothing. Right. And that sentence really kind of shapes and drives his life for better for a lot of the times, worse, you know, as he grows up, matures and eventually tax it.

Doug Belshaw: [00:03:33] And as someone who owns a lighthouse, has this had any impact on your life?

Mark Otter: [00:03:38] Yeah, think so. I think I have a bad habit maybe of of buying some off off kilter properties. Okay.

Doug Belshaw: [00:03:51] Very good, very good. So you’re both you’re both chosen fiction books there, which is interesting. Um.

Julie Keane: [00:03:57] Oh, I do have another non-fiction book. Okay. And of course, it’s also a New York book, Powerbroker. And if you haven’t read Powerbroker, it is the most unbelievable non-fiction book ever. It’s about Robert Moses and the Undoing of New York City. So it’s an incredible, incredible book. I really very much. And it’s really, really long because that’s the other thing. I hate finishing books. If I love books, I hate finishing books. So I usually choose really, really long books.

Mark Otter: [00:04:24] I remember.

Doug Belshaw: [00:04:25] Oh, sorry go on, Mark.

Mark Otter: [00:04:26] Oh, no. I was just gonna say I remember finishing Lord of the Rings and feeling like that, that sense of disappointment that I’m never going to get to read this book again for the first time.

Julie Keane: [00:04:35] The first time? Yeah, yeah.

Mark Otter: [00:04:37] Yeah, gotcha.

Doug Belshaw: [00:04:38] So low. And I. There’s a thing called Goodreads which I’m sure most people are aware of. There’s a newer one called Literal Club, and you can create little book clubs in there. And actually we should probably create a book club for all of our podcast guests books and my little tagline on there, it’s not original, but my little tagline on Literal Club is ‘I like big books and I cannot lie’. And I am of the same kind of thinking as you too. I do like to get into a big old book, and I tell you what, one of the books I really like, which I’m rereading at the moment, it’s The Castle by Franz Kafka, because he never finished it. And I really like books where famous authors didn’t finish them because I kind of finished them in my head.

Doug Belshaw: [00:05:19] Mm Yeah. My son is just reading Metamorphosis right now. It’s really great. Like he is just I’m like, It’s good, right? He’s like. He’s like, it’s so good. It was nice.

Doug Belshaw: [00:05:29] When I finished university, there was a there was a like a year old website that had books that are guaranteed to induce a mindfuck and metamorphosis is on there, right? The Master and Margarita was on there, all these ones. And I’ve like been working my way through these books ever since.

Julie Keane: [00:05:47] Master Margarita that, oh man, See, we might have to do another podcast. I’ll pick that one next time. That’s such a great book. Let me reread that one. That’s the other good thing about getting old and Mark is almost coming over to the other side of 50 in a couple of days where you stop remembering shit you’ve already read so you can enjoy all of those books for the very first time.

Mark Otter: [00:06:09] It’s like a new day.

Julie Keane: [00:06:11] Every day is a new day. Mark.

Mark Otter: [00:06:13] Yeah should pick up Lord of the Rings again.

Julie Keane: [00:06:15] Be like, Who’s this?

Mark Otter: [00:06:17] What’s this thing?

Doug Belshaw: [00:06:18] Happy birthday when it comes Mark it soon.

Doug Belshaw: [00:06:23] Very good. Okay, well, shall we begin? Why don’t we kind of set the very really broad parameters? Because there might be people who are listening to this podcast who are like communities of practice. What should we start there? Who wants to take that one?

Mark Otter: [00:06:43] I’m going to defer to Julie since she’s the chief learning officer.

Julie Keane: [00:06:47] Oh, nice. All right. So the easiest way to talk about communities of practice is that it’s not just a group of people that hang out like the three of us. We hang out all the time. But sometimes we actually dive into communities of practice which are sort of encircled by something called a domain. And that means that there’s actually something that we are coming together about and we are coming together about it and we’re doing things around it. So that’s where the practice part comes in, where so you’ve got the community, you’ve got the thing we’re coming together to talk about, do something about, engage with each other about. And then there are these practices, which is like, what are the things you’re going to do? Are you going to write things together about it? Are you going to create different pieces of, you know, advocacy, or are you going to change the way you sort of do stuff in your organisation or institution? So there are some practices and there’s kind of a there’s goals involved and then it tends to be fairly sustained. This is not something you’re going to come together like on a Sunday afternoon and then kind of disperse. This is something that generally is sort of happens over time.

Laura Hilliger: [00:07:56] Okay, then to.

Julie Keane: [00:07:57] Answer the question.

Laura Hilliger: [00:07:59] I think so. I, I’d love to. So just push that a little bit further. I’ve heard you use the words landscapes of practice, so maybe you can tell our listeners what is the difference between a community of practice and a landscape of practice, or how do those two things tie together?

Julie Keane: [00:08:16] Okay, Mark, this is you.

Mark Otter: [00:08:18] Um, yeah, sure. Like, uh, so a landscape of practice is, is a space that is made up of multiple communities of practice. And so, you know, Julie did a great job of explaining what a community of practice is. Um, you know, people come to communities of practice to, to learn, prove, practice, gain skills, competencies. Um, you know, with, with people who are focussed on a similar domain. Um, in a landscape of practice. Now you can imagine there being multiple communities like that with multiple groups of folks focussed on different domains. Um. Coming to the communities to gain skills and competencies. There is a benefit to then visiting other communities in the landscape to learn about what they’re doing, like this idea of knowledge ability. So the example we use is oftentimes it’s thinking about like a parent community of practice, maybe a elementary school teacher, community of practice and a paediatrician community of practice, and me as an elementary school teacher would come to my community of practice to gain skills and competencies that make me a better elementary school teacher. There’s really a benefit to me to interact with the paediatrician community of practice and the parent community of practice, even if I’m not going there to become a better paediatrician. But you can imagine interacting with paediatricians and saying, um. Getting a better understanding of the benefits of breakfast in the morning and coming back to your school and creating a breakfast program. So in a landscape of practice, you have these different communities of practice, but they’re still connected together and people will cross boundaries visiting each other and gaining knowledge ability.

Doug Belshaw: [00:10:03] Sounds a bit like Mastodon.

Mark Otter: [00:10:05] Sounds a bit like Mastodon. Right. Exactly.

Julie Keane: [00:10:08] Distributed. It’s federated. Yeah. And the other thing just to connect to, like, I know we’ll come back to this theme of learning, but the idea also of communities, of practice, landscapes of practice is that it is not very didactic, right? There is this sort of community social learning piece. So it takes it really does kind of enact a social learning model because the idea is that it’s based on a collective and that a true kind of outcome of synthesis, which is that we’re going to come to this conversation and we’re going to leave it differently. We’re going to think about different things. We’re going to talk about different things. And you’re sort of coming to that community and then you’re leaving it and you’re changed and more knowledge is sort of being produced out of that.

Doug Belshaw: [00:10:50] So how does that work in practice then? So you’ve got. People will be listening to the podcast, will be aware of like times when they’ve been taught in a classroom or in like the online equivalent of that, or maybe they’ve gone through a self-paced course online or whatever. Um, but also like maybe I’ve learned some stuff on social networks like by accident and things. So how is social learning different to that? It’s a bit more intentional or there’s someone leading it or how What’s the difference with social learning?

Mark Otter: [00:11:28] Julie?

Julie Keane: [00:11:33] Like dude, the teacher thing. So we have gone into the weeds of sort of social learning, which is that, you know, you’ll see that in some of the stuff that Mark’s written that we’ve written and that honestly, Laura and Doug, you both have written, which is sort of a vygotskian model, talk about, you know, we did bring up some Russians earlier in the call, which is this idea that human beings actually just do socially learn. It is not saying that you’re not going to go to a lecture and absorb these things, but generally the way the brain works is that you are doing it in communication with other humans. So even in a classroom, right? So even in a hierarchy where there’s a power differential, right, a teacher kids, you know, that is a social learning environment and that’s not by accident. So I think that’s where you find online courses can fall flat only because I think the human attention maybe this just because I don’t have an attention span, there is a way to actually learn things right in isolation. You’ll watch a YouTube video, but the extent to which you can do that for long periods of time I think is very small. And it works for, you know, again, you want to figure out how to fix that car. You want to figure out how to fix the pipe under your sink. The YouTube video will work. It’s great. And I think that’s why we’re all coming to this. Like, what are the moments where you can do that sort of small nugget of learning? And then you come together kind of in conversation with other people. And I think that social piece always has to be there for it to actually get kind of integrated into the way you do things.

Doug Belshaw: [00:13:05] All right. So if you were if you wanted to be a better teacher, that’s quite a meta level goal. You might watch a YouTube video on how to get better at questioning, but you could only do you could only learn how to be a teacher via YouTube. It’d only get you so far down the track. And just for the benefit of people who might not know who Vygotsky was. As you know, Julie just drops in PhD stuff. There. Zone of proximal development is kind of the zone in which a learner can do stuff aided by someone like a more knowledgeable peer or a teacher. So for example, my daughter, who did a Black History Month thing last month, did it using AI generated art. She would have no clue how to do that. But she learned how to do it in the prompts and everything like that. Because I was sitting next to her and I knew like to kind of encourage her and press the buttons and do all that kind of stuff. It’s still her outcome, but she’s been aided by by someone else. Cool.

Mark Otter: [00:14:03] I think that’s one of the I’m just gonna just like to pull on that thread a little bit. Um, one of the really nice things about the community of practice is that idea of being or having the more knowledgeable other. And I think a lot of the times as a former school teacher, the teacher themself was looked at as the the only more knowledgeable other in that classroom where in a community of practice um much like in you know in an apprenticeship model there’s going to be obviously more knowledgeable others in specific on specific skills or competencies. But at the same time someone else can be that in another set of those things. And so that’s the really nice piece about this, this social learning aspect is that people are constantly switching between roles of, you know, learning with learning from each other within the community.

Doug Belshaw: [00:15:00] So how does it work in terms of because you’ve got you’re just kind of to fill in the gaps here, your platform participate, which is going to be a new version of it. But the current version, which is the one we kind of are using at the moment, focuses on communities of practice, has badges in that kind of thing. Um, based on what we’ve talked about so far, social learning communities practice, landscapes of practice, your experience with the platform, etcetera. How does there’s always a hierarchy, right? And human society, usually it’s I have an assigned role, I am the teacher, I am this particular role. How have you seen the kind of the changing of hats that you talked about there? Mark? How does that kind of tend to work in practice? Are the set ways in which that tends to happen. Is it emergent? Do you have to sort that out at the start? How does that work?

Mark Otter: [00:15:54] I mean, the community of practice itself is emergent in nature. I mean, you’ll hear people talking about building, but a lot of the time what you’re doing is you’re designing for them to emerge. I mean, we see it in our own organisation as we’re, you know, the squad function that we have for building features, for example. In that situation. We have people rotate through being squad leaders, different roles within the squad. So at any given time people’s people’s roles within the organisation and therefore that power dynamic is changing. So like I may be the person leading the squad this week or this for this feature, but very, you know, the next time I’m taking part in feature development it could be Julie who is the leader of that squad and it’s the final say on those decisions. That’s just kind of a really concrete example.

Julie Keane: [00:16:48] Yeah, I mean, I guess where we’ve seen it a little bit is in our not a little. I mean, I will say that, you know, this is why when you mentioned Doug and Laura like this new versioning is like, you know, there’s the things that are in Mark in our heads, right? And there is the technology that we built, right. And the limitations of that. And so this process over the last ten years, literally of going from like Moodle to other social types of platforms, you know, watching what happened with Twitter and teachers, I mean, I know, you know, aside from what’s in the news right now this week, I mean, I would say the Twitter communities that were driven by K-12 teachers, I don’t think anybody had ever seen that before in terms of these were groups of folks that really found each other, those that was absolutely emergent. And there’s a lot of research on the Twitter hashtags for teachers in particular, because they were, you know, folks generally in institutions with very little power. And this was a whole recognition system that they built right for good and for bad. And then so I think that’s where we saw it. And that’s and sort of the beginnings of participate were really around how would you actually really support those emerging communities? And then it’s so easy to have it fall into the community facilitator and that’s the person that designed the courses and that’s the person that puts the discussion prompts and, and then you realise you have to build in systems to acknowledge other people in the community for them to take the reins and I think you both wrote a beautiful blog post about that that does have that sort of. Emily Webber little, you know, what are those sort of seeds that you put in the community that really is the flywheel that lets it take off where multiple people kind of take over without you sort of anointing them and I think that’s always a process. Like we I really do believe communities of practice are emergent and sometimes you throw them into technology spaces or even physical spaces that can sort of undermine that emergent thing. So I think that’s why we’re kind of doing this new versioning is like learning from where we may have the technology put too many constraints on certain organisations and like what would really just unleash what we know is there, which is sort of this collective knowledge sharing that doesn’t have to be sort of always driven by 1 or 2 people. You know, because I’m even thinking with a key Badger’s weird there are natural leaders in there and so but I think people are sort of waiting to be told like, okay, now you can do announcements. Now you can sort of write the discussions, you can organise the next community call, and I think that will hopefully be the work that we do together next year, which is like, how do we actually make that, you know, take a vibrant community of people who are pretty active and actually, I don’t know, do less work? I think maybe that’s the goal of all of this, which is like how other people do it.

Laura Hilliger: [00:19:42] I think the big thing there is about empowerment and motivation and ownership and agency and like creating a culture within a community of practice that makes people feel like it’s not something that’s been given to them, but rather something that they own. And I think that from a technology perspective, that’s a really interesting challenge. How can how what you just said, Julie, like how do we unleash people and unleash the thing that we know is there, which is this, you know, the interaction within the community while still, you know, creating a piece of technology that allows the people within that community to actually manage what’s going on. Because I can I can see that it it can be quite complicated at some level to actually be able to have an overview of what is happening in a particular community like mean with the open badges community, for example, it’s spread out all over the internet and over 15 years and you know, keeping and keeping a good overview about what’s going on so that you can contribute in a way that’s valuable is a set of skills within itself.

Julie Keane: [00:20:53] I agree. I mean, honestly, watching this last this last piece of work, just even around the the you know, we were just involved in, you know, sort of moving our badges to the next level and to these verifiable credentials and moving those into digital wallets and watching a community come together around standards, tech standards. And we’ve all and you all have been involved in that with open badges. And now it’s like it’s watching people kind of almost trying to chase a, you know, a racehorse because there are all these organisations that are coming up with all these standards and you and the idea is to come up with a collective standard for interoperability, but it is like herding cats literally. And I think you’re right, you’re having that visibility because inevitably then you’re always fighting turf, like who gets to make these decisions. And I think people I think, you know, you’re right. I think, Doug, you mentioned this like you’re always kind of falling in. Maybe this is cultural, too. You’re falling into these hierarchies and you’re always beating against that. But a lot of it ends up being sort of controls over power a little bit, which is why that powerbroker book is so good.

Doug Belshaw: [00:22:03] It’s always really interesting as a middle aged white guy who has to basically unlearn the patriarchy.

Julie Keane: [00:22:09] I mean, we all do.

Doug Belshaw: [00:22:10] Like how how much? There’s an expectation. Of certain people to to step up and who looks towards who and what and all that kind of unlearning. One of the things I wanted to kind of dig into as well as that maybe was the the the value cycle stuff, which is both fascinating and also a little bit confusing at the same time. Like I’ve literally got. A diagram of which there are many in front of me. And on one side is kind of, you know, people getting immediate value maybe out of a community. On the other side, there’s kind of transformative, transformative value and stuff. Um, yeah. And I just wondered if either of you wanted to talk about or talk about, um, that kind of role of, of the patriarchy or value cycles or any of that, really.

Laura Hilliger: [00:22:59] So what you’re saying, Doug, is that you want us to tie the patriarchy to the value cycles theory.

Doug Belshaw: [00:23:07] Uh, if you’d like to. Yeah.

Laura Hilliger: [00:23:09] Could do. I mean, I do. I actually, from the patriarchy perspective or from a marginalised community perspective, I think that value cycles is quite interesting because I think that it’s a lot easier for some people to show that they have created, quote unquote, immediate value by doing the same things as what other people might do, but it’s not recognised as immediately valuable. So that speaks to the society that we live within and the kinds of privilege and power that exist in our society. Um, and I think that that like as community builders, as people who care about communities of practice and care about equity, um, within our communities, I think, you know, I think that being aware of that privilege and being conscious that the kind of value that you see is perhaps biased by your own whiteness, by your own middle class ness, middle aged ness, whatever. Um, you know, where, wherever you fall on that spectrum, I think it’s really important that we, that we remember that that’s a thing. So that when we are building communities and we seek to empower people, we remember that different people are going to need to be empowered in different ways and that we don’t lose that by trying to be too general in, in our, um, yeah, in our view of what is valuable, I guess. That went really serious. Somebody lighten it up.

Julie Keane: [00:24:40] Yeah, well, I mean, Doug, when we were. When we were presenting around the key badges weird community. We talked about, you know, our experience where, you know, I always talk to I always speak to Crystal Rawls. So this is a woman we’ve met over the last year and a couple of different open recognition calls that is really working within an institution where almost all of her learners are first gen and she was a first gen meaning. And again, from the guess, I don’t know if this is US centric, but first generation, sort of the first generation to go to post-secondary right? And inevitably even in progressive liberal institutions, they are seen as a in a deficit model, right? What are the remediation? We need supports. We need to make sure. And some of that’s well intentioned, right? You know that there’s attrition. Kids who are first or adults that are first gen might not make it through and that is because those institutions are not designed for them. So you could talk about equity, which is like, how am I going to like smash this person and like mould them and suppress them and like make them just comply in an institution? Or what would you actually do to change the room that you’ve just brought them into? So as opposed to empowering them, which is like, how does how does their presence actually change the place you’re in? And like, are you actually going to allow that space as someone who has, you know, heretofore held, the power reigns and most people are not going to do that. I mean, I think it’s a very disingenuous. A lot of conversations we have around diversity, equity and inclusion, because I don’t think that the folks that have those power reigns are that interested in giving them up, at least consciously or subconsciously.

Doug Belshaw: [00:26:23] Oh for sure. These things are baked into technology.

Julie Keane: [00:26:25] Exactly.

Doug Belshaw: [00:26:26] I remember when I worked in higher education before into Mozilla, the whole thing was around learning analytics. This was like ten plus years ago and it’s still a it’s still a deal now, but it was so like basic back then. So like, oh, there was like Purdue University had something which was then bought by other organisations through Blackboard or something, which was literally a traffic light system. As to whether you were on track as a learner, never mind anything that was happening anywhere else in your life. Like were you on the rails in terms of academia and stuff. So perfect example of just not getting it. I wanted to bring it back as Brian’s done a wonderful image, which I don’t think we’ve used that often in terms of key badges, weird, which is our community of practice on the participative platform for the open badges community and open recognition and it goes immediate value, potential value, applied value, realised value and reframing value. And I think that we’re it’s interesting in that context because open badges was very much I get immediate value by getting a credential for a thing and then thinking, Oh, what are the different ways in which we could use this? And then like going almost around the whole thing, realising that actually it’s not really the credential, it’s the recognition behind the credential, which is the important kind of thing. So actually I think we’ve been and we continue to go around this whole, these whole cycles. Yeah.

Laura Hilliger: [00:27:52] I think that I think the other really interesting thing about the value cycles and listeners, we will provide a link so you can read more and learn more about value cycles specifically. But the thing I find really interesting about them is that they’re not stacked. It’s so there’s five of them, but it’s not like you have to go one, two, three, four, five. The way that, like the complexities of communities allow for you to create immediate value by showing up or something and then immediately jump into reframing value because your perspective, your background allows you to translate an idea in a way that people haven’t heard before. So you’re doing a reframing that allows more people to engage with an idea. And I think that the thing about value cycles that I find really interesting is that that back and forth and kind of chaotic landscape of of the way that community members kind of bring value at all to a community.

Julie Keane: [00:28:53] I think that’s and Mark, jump in here.

Mark Otter: [00:28:56] I was just think absolutely spot on. That also then brings the challenge of how to explain it right Like think that’s where a lot of the difficulty is is taking the complexity because you you know even if you’re doing these these drawings, you don’t want to draw it as a as a straight line progression. Right. And so spent a lot of time thinking like, how can we visualise this? What’s the picture that will tell the thousand words that will let people understand what it is that we’re that we’re trying to convey here?

Julie Keane: [00:29:24] Yeah. And so just to, you know, the the folks that have kind of. Been doing a lot of the theory work behind communities of practice, you know, especially Etienne Wenger. You know, a lot of their now gone into even the more of the weeds of what is value creation even look like. So even that immediate value or applied value where I’m actually going into my whatever context in which I work and I’m sort of applying these things, I’m learning in my communities of practice and I’m changing the way I’m doing things. That level of sort of value creation is now, you know, they’re sort of trying to tease that apart of how people sort of come together. And then and I think that does lead into why we think there is this natural, nice marriage between communities of practice, value creation and systems of recognition. Right? Which is really sort of acknowledging the value created both by the collective and then individuals within that.

Doug Belshaw: [00:30:17] Yeah, Yeah. So let’s talk about that a little bit because the usual way of doing, say, online learning would be I sign up for a course, my employer signs me up for a course or whatever. It’s a compliance thing. It’s not a compliance thing. I go through the things and I get something at the end to prove that I did a thing. Um, and whether or not I just learned the stuff so I could get that thing or not, it doesn’t really matter. Whereas we’re talking almost about the inverse of that. And just by way of context, I always find it really disingenuous when people who have got a skill or are well known in a particular area try and then turn around and present the steps that got me here. But actually when you talk to them about it, it was a bit more chaotic than that. It’s like, Oh, well, I got really frustrated about this thing and I just kept on like digging and I went off on a different thing. Now put it down for six months and I came back to it. And then I met into a guy on a subway and I started a conversation. And but that is never represented by the course that they create, which is like, watch this video, do this essay kind of love.

Mark Otter: [00:31:21] There’s a Guy RAZ on how I built this. Like, he ends that podcast with, you know, how much of this was your skill, your intelligence, and how much of this was just luck, right? And you never see luck represented in those stories. Like, yeah, no, I just was really lucky, you know? How did you meet this person? I bumped into them on the subway like, Yeah, where is that lock represented?

Doug Belshaw: [00:31:44] No, exactly. Exactly. The serendipity of learning and the fact that actually when you’re in a community of practice, not everything is intentional. Some things are serendipitous and accidental and really depends on the people who have turned up at any one moment in time. So. And how do you how is that value proposition going to be signed off by someone who wants to see the ROI of this learning experience? Like it’s.

Julie Keane: [00:32:10] Yeah. And I mean, honestly, even the communities of practice value cycles, you could see that slipping there, which is like, here’s this evaluation framework, here’s some indicators for each of those buckets, and we can, you know, structure an entire evaluation report, you know, so you can even see something that is really meant to somehow represent the fluidity of value creation in a community practice. Also get into a very linear.

Mark Otter: [00:32:34] We can put traffic lights on that.

Julie Keane: [00:32:35] Yeah. With traffic lights on.

Mark Otter: [00:32:38] Traffic lights. Oh congratulations on zero on a on a yellow value.

Julie Keane: [00:32:43] I mean we this this issue of, you know, systems of recognition like how I mean I will tell you where I’ve seen it the best was the OG badge. Oh my God. Like so we we you know, hopefully there’ll be some listeners. So for the OG badge, we, you know, in the key badges we had, it seemed to, you know, really draw in a lot of folks who like Doug and Laura and and me and Mark have been working in open badges for, you know, 11 years or so. And you’re constantly in these cycles of of new folks coming in. But we realised there was not really a space for folks that are like again, getting curmudgeony but need to, but have been holding this light, you know, holding the lantern, you know, of trying to keep this thing alive, this idea alive and doing a pretty successful job of it for many, many years without any money. So so we kind of know, right? Collectively acknowledge them with a genius badge that was a and then made hats, which was Mark’s right. I have to say. Stroke of genius.

Doug Belshaw: [00:33:43] This was amazing. So at the Badge summit in August of this year, 2022, we we issued badges to how many people who were part of the community before IMS Global Learning Consortium. Now one EdTech had taken over from Mozilla. You know, that was a line in the sand, as it were. So this was a wonderful badge which had a hat on it. And then Mark made a hat which had a badge with a hat with a badge on it.

Julie Keane: [00:34:14] Super awesome. Very meta.

Doug Belshaw: [00:34:16] If you have one of these hats in like 20 years time, they’re going to be worth a fortune on eBay because it was a limited run. Yeah, So very limited. Amazing.

Julie Keane: [00:34:23] But to see people’s reaction when they got the hat actually physically in person was really great. Because it did. It was that moment of like being seen. Of being seen by a community of people that you really care about, both emotionally and intellectually and like have kept these ties for a long time and other people have joined it. But it really did sort of speak to like these moments of recognition actually matter. And so that’s the other thing that we’re trying to figure out, like if you are going to operationalise these in some systems, like you’re never going to of course, do anything that is akin to that sort of that physical moment when two people really recognise one another in person. And I think we all understood that during the pandemic of that feeling of loss. And so I think hopefully I think there’s a lot of feeling intentional about that. But I do think there are systems that we can build that would both acknowledge some sort of top down certification and also use that same technology to really meaningfully recognise one another in ways that matter to you. And that can be seen. I mean, that’s where I think the landscapes come in, because if you have systems of recognition within the community practice, that could also be potentially visualised within a landscape where there’s some shared domain there. So in Mark’s example around like child development, that’s a shared domain between teachers and paediatricians, right? Obviously they have both different separate areas of practices, but there’s that shared domain. And if you had relevant systems of recognition, it would make it easier, those boundaries a little more porous because that would be visible how those things operate. Yeah.

Doug Belshaw: [00:35:58] Yeah. That’s interesting example, especially when it comes to recognition, because it’s not saying that you’re certified to do a thing like, like doctors and paediatricians have to have certain qualifications to do a thing and teachers have to have that. But it’s more recognising intentions or in the case of key badges, weird like pro-social behaviours, things which actually make the community an awesome place to hang out to learn whatever. Yes. So maybe we should give some examples of other badges because people might be listening to this thinking this all sounds great, but okay, I can give badges to people who have stuck around a bit, but what else? What else could I do? So what are the kind of badges have we got in that community?

Julie Keane: [00:36:41] Harmony keeper.

Mark Otter: [00:36:44] Hofmeister.

Julie Keane: [00:36:46] The Hofmeister.

Julie Keane: [00:36:47] All right. Somebody has to explain the Hofmeister. That’s a culturally bound badge.

Laura Hilliger: [00:36:56] Okay, I’ll do it.

Mark Otter: [00:36:58] Yes, please.

Laura Hilliger: [00:37:00] I mean, you’re.

Julie Keane: [00:37:01] In Germany, after all, so I feel like it’s.

Mark Otter: [00:37:03] Right.

Julie Keane: [00:37:03] It’s appropriate for you to explain.

Laura Hilliger: [00:37:06] Um, yeah, we. We have a stealth badge that’s called the Hofmeister. Hofmeister after Daisy. Daisy. Daisn. Nope. David Hasselhoff. Um, as you might know from Baywatch. But now that I think about it, like, we’re all old and I don’t know how many people actually know Baywatch anymore, but that’s fine. Hello, listener. If you’ve never heard of Baywatch, go look that up.

Julie Keane: [00:37:29] Check it out on YouTube.

Mark Otter: [00:37:30] Google it, Google it. Yeah.

Laura Hilliger: [00:37:32] And so this badge is really about when we notice people in the community who are jumping in to help other people or to further a conversation, provide a point of view that maybe isn’t recognised or otherwise point out something that, um, that is, you know, furthering the interaction of the community than they, they are awarded this. Hofmeister Because they’ve helped out the community of practice. Frankly, they’ve helped a conversation continue. They’ve helped their fellow community members. So we’re really trying to recognise people that go, you know, take a take a step to help each other inside of this community. And that’s what that that badge is about.

Doug Belshaw: [00:38:14] Yeah. And the harmony keeper is about, you know, things can get heated sometimes, although not that often, to be honest in the keypad’s weird community. And then keeping things kind of like, you know, going along and not getting everything as angry as the Twitter rage machine is a good thing. We’ve also got ones which are specifically tied to the value cycles like value creator, for example. So recognising when people provide value to the community and issuing them like recognising them with a with a badge as well. So it is the whole community keeping badges weird is all about that move to open recognition through the value cycles as opposed to just sticking a credential on it, which is mostly what higher education wants to do.

Julie Keane: [00:38:59] And I think that’s where we want to move with the with certainly the technology is really allowing everyone in the community to be able to trigger those recognitions, not just, again, the community facilitators not hiding it behind sort of a hierarchy of permissions. Um, and then I also think that, you know, we’ve been involved in so many working groups now around skills with employers, and this issue of trust continually comes up around how do you sort of trust these badges, trust these credentials. And it really boggles the mind because generally the way people get hired right now is either you’re somebody’s nephew or you give somebody a paper resume. So I’m like, how is there I can say whatever I want on this piece of paper? But yet a visual credential somehow is less trusted. I mean, this is still coming up because I think, again, this is like a lip service to yes, we care about these soft skills. We care about collaboration. We care about someone who really kind of contributes in any sort of community and yet, you know, really making sure that those have currency even outside of the community of practice that you’re in. And it doesn’t always have to like they’re they have value in and of themselves, but it would be good for these recognition systems. So for the Hofmeister badge and the Harmony Keeper as folks kind of traverse into other communities of practice, that those badges come with them and bring some reputation along with them. So it kind of gives other people in that new community sort of a baseline, okay, this person is someone who’s going to sort of jump in there and and contribute.

Doug Belshaw: [00:40:29] Oh, interesting. So that’s when the recognition within a community turns into a credential that goes with them to a new community. That’s that’s an interesting way of thinking about it. Cool. So we’ve heard about key badges. Weird and we’ve heard about kind of teacher focussed, maybe communities of practice, but you host all different kinds of communities on participate. Um, what, what type of other ones might people listen to this podcast kind of be aware of or just want to kind of put out there as examples?

Mark Otter: [00:41:02] You name it, we’ve got it sustainable.

Doug Belshaw: [00:41:06] I was on the Centre for Humane Technologies website randomly, completely unrelated to our work with you, and I scrolled down. I completely forgot that they were using Participate and I thought, Oh, that looks interesting. I clicked through and I was like, Oh, have I pressed the wrong button? I’m back on participate. And they’re like, No, no, no. It’s hosted on there and they’ve got courses on there. It’s really cool.

Mark Otter: [00:41:26] Yeah, The Centre of Humane Tech is, is a fantastic partner where there’s just thousands of people coming through and learning how to be a humane technologist. But I think we’ve got two separate groups that are focussed on sustainable oceans, Sustainable Fisheries, National Association of Black Public Defenders. If you’re into law, um, Black Girl Ventures, if you’re into entrepreneurship, yeah, they’re fantastic. Julie Um. Paso is another good one, which is, you know, this fantastic community of folks. Yeah. This fantastic community of folks who are being recognised for the skills they’re developing in early childhood learning.

Julie Keane: [00:42:10] Okay. I do have to jump in because there is a patriarchy connection here. So this this community, okay, is about like a group mostly of Latina women in Colorado who wanted to recognise all of the unseen labours that generally women do in early childhood. You know, in early childhood, grandmas, aunties, best friends, you know, the people that do the labour of child rearing. And again, I know I’m with like, it’s hard for me to say this because Mark and Doug and also Aaron were primary caretakers in their household. So it’s really nice to see sort of men taking this on. And I have personal experience with this, but that was the whole idea, which is like, how could we take these women that are doing this labour and actually think around some learning and actually certification pathways and some employment opportunities. So Paso Paso is a really good example of let’s build this from a recognition idea, understanding these folks. These women already have these competencies and actually kind of do the work of kind of almost, you know, codifying it essentially. So that’s a great example. Yeah, they’re fun. We have manual. We have young men’s health. Student Men’s Health. That’s good. Good dudes.

Mark Otter: [00:43:22] Student mental health and. Yeah.

Doug Belshaw: [00:43:26] Wow.

Julie Keane: [00:43:27] Yeah, we had a really wide range, which makes it difficult from a product marketing perspective, but it is this idea that’s where, you know, we do lean into the communities of practice because that again is the continuous thread through all of these folks, right? They’re all very.

Doug Belshaw: [00:43:43] Yeah. Subtlety gets lost on the Internet, doesn’t it?

Julie Keane: [00:43:45] Yeah, it does. Yeah.

Mark Otter: [00:43:47] But it does, it does bring up this really, you know, we’ve been really focussed on communities of practice and beginning to focus more broadly on landscapes of practice. And this brings up this really interesting challenge in that inside of each of those very different communities, there’s a set of jargon that allows makes more efficient communication within those communities. So like my wife’s, she’s a doctor and I know that she’s talking about the same thing that Julie and I are talking about, but it feels like an entirely different language. So they have their own set of jargon. Educators have their own set of jargon. Business people have like really annoying jargon. Let me double let me double click into the annoying business jargon that we put up with all the time, first of all, being double click into.

Julie Keane: [00:44:32] But I think I think Mark, we should take a step back.

Mark Otter: [00:44:35] Yeah, take a step back.

Julie Keane: [00:44:37] Take a step back.

Mark Otter: [00:44:38] Well, what’s the ROI on taking that step back? Julie Um, but.

Laura Hilliger: [00:44:42] But I think we should step forward and try to find some synergies.

Julie Keane: [00:44:47] Oh, my God I was just going to say synergies!

Mark Otter: [00:44:48] I love synergy. But that, that jargon can be can be a barrier to, to linking these communities together, right? So even though it really provides some efficiency within the community, one of the things we’re thinking about a lot is like, how do we help people interpret what people in other communities are saying so that they can so that they can communicate with them. So, see, that is like one of our big challenges coming up as we really, you know, launch new platform and start thinking about connecting those communities together.

Laura Hilliger: [00:45:20] I think that’s a perfect segue into a final question since we’re up to 45 minutes and we usually try to try to stay under an hour with the podcast, but wanted to ask you if you wanted to give a little bit of a preview of the new platform that you are launching next year and maybe talk a little bit about how how are you going to translate jargon between communities? How can people recognise each other across landscapes of practice? What, what are what, what are all the secrets that you want to tell our listeners?

Mark Otter: [00:45:55] I mean, I could start just with a little bit of a backstory on the current platform and why we’re we’re building the new one. The current platform, as Julie had mentioned, you know, was a little over a decade in the making. And, you know, I mean, Julie and I have been working together on this for a long time. Neither of us write a line of code. So, you know, we really started off searching for the solution, um, that didn’t exist. You know, we worked inside of a together. We worked inside of another organisation where we had, we needed to provide a lot of professional learning and professional development and opportunities to connect for folks. So we ultimately end up building our own version of the platform. And then over the last decade, we’ve obviously learned a lot about what works and 1 or 2 things that don’t work. And so that brought us to, you know, really now having this much deeper understanding of what it takes to support communities of practice and translating that into a piece of technology that will will better enable us to to meet our mission. So but two years ago, Julie, it feels like now we decided that we were going to start building out this newer version, the new version of the platform. Um, and, you know, one of the things that was really a non-negotiable from the beginning was, you know, we’re coming from a K-12 background. Teachers talk about power dynamics like teachers have to control, you know. And so when we hired a bunch of teachers and we were there was a lot of top down control. And so we started to think about like, how do we start to put some of these tools in the hands of community members?

Mark Otter: [00:47:35] Yeah, yeah. To build, to really, you know, match the technology to the emergent nature of the of the communities of practice. Um.

Julie Keane: [00:47:44] I think. And then, you know, certainly watching when everybody sort of shifted online, like truly getting to these hybrid things, which is not about face to face and online is really mostly about this and async so sync and async. So what are the ways that we can really blend synchronous and asynchronous and support those things? That has been sort of a pain point in the current platform of really supporting that, you know, because and you’ve taught us a lot really in terms of just the really providing diverse learning opportunities, which is, you know, it’s a community call, it’s a Wiki Barnraising it’s a podcast, it’s a webinar, it’s a, you know, So just getting away from their courses, their discussions, there are resources that are kind of a knowledge management curation place. So just trying again to capture that serendipity, which of course you’ll never, you know, it’ll never get there, but we’ll keep trying. But definitely that more of what Mark was saying of like putting those things in the hands, both of recognition systems, making tools, getting more synchronous events and then making the people more visible. People have been really hidden behind sort of a more of a static interface. So making what different people are doing on the platform much more visible. So these people are having this conversation about this article. These people are in this event, these people are kind of giving each other badges, you know, those things. And it won’t guarantee you like it won’t be there in January 1st, but hopefully by the end of, you know, 23, these things will come online. But that’s the idea is like aliveness. Hopefully, to the extent that it’s happening in certain communities is much more visible than it is right now.

Doug Belshaw: [00:49:24] So end of January, we’re still on track for end of January ish. Yeah.

Julie Keane: [00:49:29] Yeah, yeah. You’ll be our first guinea pigs. You’ll be our guinea pigs for sure. Yeah, we’ll start.

Mark Otter: [00:49:35] We’ll start sneaking some folks in 1st of January, end of December, 1st of January and get ready for a big rollout. Yeah, end of January.

Doug Belshaw: [00:49:43] Very good. Well, I’m going to sneak a link in based on what we just talked about with all the buzzword bingo and things. One of my favourite comedians, Bob Mortimer, has something which he did just before the pandemic and then kind of leaned into it a little bit called Train Guy, where he pretends to be on a FaceTime call with someone whilst on a train. Um, and yeah, pretends to be like, you know, part of a company making pencil cases and, you know, have some face time with a bigwig, you know.

Julie Keane: [00:50:09] Super Yeah.

Doug Belshaw: [00:50:11] It’s fantastic. So I’m going to sneak that into our show notes. And if you’re listening to this and you haven’t seen it, then it might just be British humour. Who knows? Go and have a look.

Julie Keane: [00:50:18] All right. I like.

Julie Keane: [00:50:19] British humour.

Laura Hilliger: [00:50:21] All right. Well, thank you so much, Mark and Julia. It’s always a pleasure!

Laura Hilliger: [00:50:25] Thanks for inviting us!

Mark Otter: [00:50:26] Thank you for having us! Always good to see you all.

Laura Hilliger: [00:50:29] All right.