Science of Learning

Belonging: Developing a Community of Practice among Data Carpentry Learners

Authors: Kari L. Jordan BLOG

When did you realize you belonged to the Carpentry community?

Two schools of thought regarding learning and how it is achieved are the acquisition metaphor and the participation metaphor.

The acquisition metaphor asserts knowledge is acquired individually, applied, and transferred.

The participation metaphor asserts knowledge is formed by becoming a member of a community of practice.

The computational scientist of old personifies the acquisition metaphor. She is someone who learned and worked in isolation, spending hours upon hours coding and debugging until her problem was solved.

In the Carpentry community, we develop our workshops around the participation metaphor by incorporating hands-on experiences in our in-person lessons, and promoting community engagement post-workshop. Does this imply we are leaving those who prefer to learn on their own behind?

In the late 1990s, Anna Sfard published an article discussing the implications of these two metaphors (acquisition vs. participation). Here is a succinct mapping adapted from Sfard’s article.

Learning | Acquisition metaphor | Participation metaphor
redirect_from: /blog/belonging/ — | — | —
Definition| Acquisition of something | Becoming a participant
Goal | Individual enrichment | Community building
Student | Recipient | Apprentice
Teacher | Facilitator | Expert participant
Knowledge | Property | Activity
Knowing is | Having | Belonging

In short, the acquisition metaphor views knowledge as property that one acquires, whereas the participation metaphor views knowledge as being active in a community.

I, like many others in educational research, wrestle with whether or not one has to choose one metaphor over the other. Am I #teamaquisition or #teamparticipation? I have an example. I attended my first Software Carpentry workshop about a month ago. I had never heard of many of the lessons we teach, and during the workshop I lost my way. I knew I had to learn the information to be successful at my job, so immediately following the workshop I went to the mall, sat in the foodcourt, and went through the entire lesson by myself. By the end of the lesson I was confident!

Having done that I was now able to interact and be a part of the conversation during the second day of the workshop–I felt like I belonged. I found it easier to learn the material on my own, and still feel like part of this community.

What are your thoughts about these two metaphors as it relates to our learners, workshops, and community? Acquisition or participation? Do we have to choose to belong?

When did you realize you belonged to the carpentry community?

Comment below, and tweet us your thoughts @datacarpentry and @drkariljordan.

Reference: Sfard, A. (1998). On two metaphors for learning and the dangers of choosing just one. Educational researcher, 27(2), 4-13.

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