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Developing an Empirical Account of a Community of Practice: Characterizing the Essential Tensions

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Journal of the Learning Sciences Volume 11, Number 4, ISSN 1050-8406


This article examines the potential of a learning-as-a-part-of-a-community approach, focusing on the participatory process of learning in a community-based, teacher education program; a Community of Teachers (CoT). CoT is a preparation program for preservice teachers working toward secondary teacher certification in which they join an on-going community and remain a part of that community from 2 to 4 years. The entire process of learning as a member of CoT occurs fluidly through the reflexive relations among secondary school participation and university seminar participation, as well as through the active and reflective practices requisite for building one's portfolio of Program Expectations. In this study, 4 participant-observers used field notes, document analysis, and interview data to build grounded interpretations of community life. In this reporting of the data, we have framed these "experience-near" understandings in terms of core tensions (or illuminative dualities) and presented them in a manner that is likely to have "experience-distant" significance. By characterizing CoT life in terms of tensions or dualities, we hope to provide other educators-designers with an illuminative case study from which they can build petite generalizations--that is, use this discussion to more readily identify patterns occurring in their own interventions and navigate the challenges they face more intelligently.


Barab, S.A., Barnett, M. & Squire, K. (2002). Developing an Empirical Account of a Community of Practice: Characterizing the Essential Tensions. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 11(4), 489-542. Retrieved June 18, 2019 from .

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