Visual Conversations

I used to be concerned that the Classroom Displays Group on Flickr wasn’t ever going to become a community of practice. Andy and I had long discussions about this when I started the group nearly 2 years ago. I felt that it would never meet the criteria because there were hardly any conversations in the group. Encouraging these conversations to develop was one of my reasons for setting up the blog. I was right in a way, the blog format did encourage people, even people from the Flickr group, to comment on displays.
However, I had a bit of an ‘Aha’ moment last night when in conversation with Andy I began to put forward the notion that the conversations in the group are the photos themselves. He rapidly agreed with me and the notion began to grow.
Sharing their practice, in this case the ideas individuals have had for displays, is of course what a community of practice does. They have a domain. They can define themselves by using the phrase “I am a maker of displays”. The group crosses national boundries with members from many countries including the UK, The US, Japan, Holland, Sweden, and even Peru! Some are teachers, others teaching assistants and yet others are librarians but they are all involved in the making of displays. So slowly but surely the group is building up. There are over 60 members now and more than 400 photos. The group has developed a useful folksonomy for tagging photos.
Classroom displays. Get yours at bighugelabs.com/flickr
I thought it might be possible that the displays are influencing the practice of people beyond the group as people searched for and copied ideas from the blog as well. This must often be the case with distributed CoPs on the open internet, where the vast majority of viewers/readers are ‘legitimate periferal participants’. I usually dislike this phrase but in this instance it describes the situation perfectly. This is the ‘downstream impact’ I can have no way of measuring. It goes way beyond anything I’d thought possible. The blog is now linked to by people training teachers in Spain, Canada, the US, Poland, Brazil as well as the UK (and these are only the ones I know about!). It will influence the practice of these teachers in ways I cannot measure. For some it will influence how they use displays in their classrooms, for others it may influence their attitude to technology and blogging, changing how useful they see it in terms of their own professional development.

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