The usefulness of coPs for professional development is that this special type of informal network encourages professionals to work more effectively or to understand work more deeply among them focusing on a particular specialty or work group. Education professionals find coPs very useful because in these small groups of teachers who work together over a period of time and share extensive communication, they develop a common sense of purpose and a desire to share teaching, learning, related knowledge and experience which in the end benefits students. The coPs offer professionals a learning environment that provides authentic learning contexts and support both collaboration and interaction which is highly required nowadays. In other words, professonals learn more effectively since they have to deal with real problems and complete authentic tasks (Wenger, 1991). CoPs are also useful because they also include a social interaction with the real practitioners who work with them and assist their learning. Such collaboration leads to an elaboration of strategies that can be discussed and further enhance the interaction through which the members learn something through experiences of interactions (Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002).
Communities of Practice provide an excellent forum for knowledge sharing and a vital question is whether the new communications media, which provide new possibilities for collaboration and distributed working, could support the existence of such groups in a distributed environment. This question takes on an added relevance with the rapid internationalization of business that can spread the distribution over national boundaries posing problems of cultural and temporal as well as physical distance. This paper reports on a case study which was the first stage in exploring whether Computer Mediated Communications technologies (CMCs) can support distributed international Communities of Practice. The aim of the case study was to explore the possible existence of Communities of Practice in an international organization, to identify such groups and to ascertain the media used.
In the language learning context, coPs provide a good language learning environment in the sense that CoPs connect so many people. This allows the members to interact with other people who are usually out of their reach, which gives language learners opportunities to find the real audience with whom they can use the target language in a real, natural communication. Using chats, for example, learners learn some language aspects crucial for communication, which sometimes it is difficult to learn in the traditional language class room (Toyoda & Harrison, 2002). In addition, interaction in the target language provides opportunities for learners to comprehend message meaning, produce modified output, and attend the target language form which helps them develop their linguistic systems. There are now many virtual language communities of practice in which teachers and learners gather in an online space where they communicate and interact with each other. Such virtual space includes real-time forums where they contribute ideas based on their backgrounds and experiences that in turn stimulate responses from other members. The least proficient members learn from the interactions of the more fluent ones. Another extra point gained from learning through coPs is that the language learners also learn other skills such as computer and information skills, communication skills, and organizational skills. By being active in the virtual language activities, they become accustomed to working with computers and Internet. They learn how to start, interrupt, or end a conversation, and the engagement in the virtual discussions gives them exposure to lessons on how to interact with others and manage an organization (Chapelle, 2001).
I am interested in joining a coP called “My Language Exchange coP” at http://www.mylanguageexchange.com/. It is a language exchange online community that allows both teachers and students to find language partners all over the world to practice English or any other language and provides authentic language learning contexts and supports both collaboration and interaction among participants. I expect to share experiences with other language teachers and contribute to people who are interested in learning English.