CCE Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences


Laurie Dringus

Committee Member

Timothy Ellis

Committee Member

Steven R. Terrell


Communities of practice are entities that emerge for the purposes of learning and advancement of knowledge in a particular area. They emerge under all circumstances, even adverse situations. Because they can spawn great innovation and knowledge advancement, organizations need to cultivate and establish environments that allow them to develop. Currently, communities of practice have moved into the online world, in which their members use computer mediated communication to collaborate with each other.

In January, 2002, a virtual community was formed to enable teachers of English as a Foreign Language to collaborate on learning and applying various computing technologies in language teaching. This community is known as Web heads in Action. Because many teachers with this interest are geographically disbursed, this distributed community allows the members to contact others with similar interests in this field. This virtual community also considers itself a community of practice because some of its core members are interested in the research and literature in this area.

The literature presents communities of practice as falling within a range of attributes and characteristics. However, this presentation of ranges causes the concept of "communities of practice" to be elusive for members and stakeholders alike. In addition, the difference between communities of practice and virtual communities needs to be delineated.

This dissertation established criteria that distinguish distributed communities of practice from other types of virtual communities. The author derived the criteria from theory, and conducted a case study that compared communities of practice theory with the virtual community of Web heads in Action. Based on this analysis, this dissertation refined and furthered develop theory of distributed communities of practice.

This case study opened the debate on general criteria, as well as a benchmarking system, for communities of practice. It provided guidelines for future study in the areas of methodology and criteria refinement with respect to multiple case studies.

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