MET:Newcomer Communities of Practice
Newcomer Communities of Practice (NCoP) are on-line elaborations of Communities of Practice intended primarily for pre- and post- arrival orientation of immigrants and refugees. They are community-based and moderated networks of local service providers, advocates for social inclusion, immigrants, refugees and refugee claimants. Membership in the NCoPs is open to all who are interested in improving the quality of the immigration experience. Key participants are newcomers who have achieved permanent residence or citizenship status and who are willing to share their lived experiences with those who follow. These participants serve as cultural informants and discussion facilitators in first language online forums and blogs.
The need for online pre- and post-arrival and orientation for newcomers was clearly identified by the Canadian government in 2003 (SCCI, 2003). The orientation program in use at that time was paper-based and implemented only in countries that produced a high volume of immigrants and refugees. New locations would come on stream and others discontinued, depending on the greatest need and the resources available. There was little communication between visa officers and immigration workers in Canada, resulting in confusion about the actual challenges facing newcomers and supports available to them in different locations. In recent years the government has developed website “clusters” that organize information for specific audiences by topic rather than organization. In particular, the cluster "Going to Canada" provides comprehensive pre- and post arrival information for those who are planning to live and work in Canada.
Although the new web clusters appear to be cost-effective mechanisms for distributing orientation information, they are based on a core-periphery distribution of information that permits little or no interaction with the newcomer audience. Furthermore, there is no online provision of orientation information in languages other than English or French. Finally, although there is less of a digital divide now than in the past, the clusters are accessible only to those who have Internet access and the computer literacy skills to take full advantage of the resources. This problem is particularly noticeable in refugee camps.
NCoPs address the above inequalities by focussing on the social construction of knowledge (Sociocultural-Constructivist) by providing a zone of proximal development (Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development) where newcomers can safely discuss and explore issues of personal relevance in the language(s) they prefer with credible and authoritative peers and expert resource people. The process makes use of widely available social networking software such as ning and zoho to permit interaction through forums, discussion groups, blogs, video and photo uploading routines and personal home page development.
Links to other Internet sites extend the functionality of the social networks. For example links to cartoon development sites such as ComicLife permit a group of language students to collaborate on a multimedia project incorporating narrative, public and private language on a topic of interest to the group. Similarly, instructional YouTube videos on topics of importance to newcomers, in any language can be imported to blogs and dicussion forums. Google offers a broad range of products ranging from GoogleDocs, a collaborative writing tool to Reader, which posts new content from specified websites at the moment it is posted. Wiki development software such as provided by Project Forum allow participants to build comprehensive orientation resources that are specific to the needs of different groups. Online surveys, such as those offered by SurveyMonkey, can be administered and reported directly from the social networking site. All of these products are available at little or no cost and all greatly increase the level of interactivity among participants.
Management of the social network site is generally undertaken by a volunteer subgroup of participants who determine the accessibility of the site and monitor its content.
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