Signs and Wonders

Take a look at the Adjunct Writing Instructor Group on Ning. No, seriously. Go ahead. It won’t take you long. It is, or rather was, a group started by an adjunct writing instructor to share ideas about the specific challenges inherent in adjuncts teaching writing. It was established to provide support for a specific community, and, though the founder Lisa Woods did not use this term, as a community of practice.

As Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, authors of the 2002 Cultivating Communities of Practice , would have told Ms. Woods, for communities of practice to survive, they need three defining components: a “domain of knowledge,” a community, and practices held in common.

Take another look at the Adjunct Writing Instructor Group. You’ll see from the posts there that the members there do not lack knowledge (though as composition scholars will readily tell you, as an academic discipline writing/composition/rhetoric has long been marked by contests over the boundaries of its domain and challenges to it). There is an attempt to share practices, and a voiced desire to reach a shared understanding of best practices. Present in the posts you can see the good will that’s a vital precursor to community formation.

And…as you know if you’ve looked at the group, it was discontinued. It never took off. There’s nothing wrong with this per se. Groups start and stop all the time, and experimentation is a vital part of an open society. And yet…this group addressed a clearly felt need, and trickled out of existence. If you’re looking for a sign about how the structural context in which adjuncts write determines their success, take this as one. Too busy teaching at two colleges to keep the machine cranking and support the group until it finally lurched to independent life, Ms. Woods let it die so she could live. Well, work.

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