Peer Teaching in Communities of Practice

As I pointed out last time, I have written about a specific community of practice before. What actually got me to start writing posts about peer teaching on this blog to begin with was thinking about my time as a fan fiction writer. Fan fiction, and all other fancraft, is a special experience. You read or watch something that triggers some sort of response in you. Maybe you felt the story should have turned out differently. Maybe you want to bring forward a character or event you felt got swept unfairly under the rug. For me, I was hanging out with different groups of people who were writing fan fiction, and, once they explained what that meant, I thought it would be interesting to take a stab at it. (It was a Smallville fanfic. No, you can’t see it. To be honest, I don’t even know where it is any more.)

What makes the fan fiction community so interesting (and I’m just blindly assuming this goes for other fancraft communities) is that regardless of what brings people to write fan fiction, once they experience being acknowledged by other fanficcers, they want to keep being acknowledged. Many of them realize that the best route is to become a better writer. So they work harder. They take advice from fellow fanficcers to help themselves develop. They seek out people to read their work before they share it publicly.

And many fanficcers step up and offer feedback intended to help other writers become stronger writers. For better or for worse.

Did anyone formally organize this system? No. Fan fiction informally organized itself; writers banded together to share in their love of extending favorite media. There is no authority, but there is a definite, thriving community of practice of people who write and who help build the writers around them to be better. We are all familiar with stories of now traditionally published writers who rose out of the fan fiction community thanks to the support structures inherent in the community.

I’m willing to bet if I started poking around other fancraft fields, I’d find the same thing.

Why am I discussing communities of practice away from the other settings? Because it has a distinct difference. While there may be people who gain enough reputation to be big names in creation, editing, or reviewing, there is no “teacher”. No “coach”. No one is in charge. Newbies come in and work right alongside experts, both groups working to level themselves up while helping others do the same. There doesn’t have to be an authority in the room for peer teaching to take place.

And that’s why peer teaching is a successful and powerful teaching strategy.

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