Communities and Communities of Practice (CoP's), are they related? How? They have to be, right?
In my knowledge management class, we've been talking about communities in general: what brings them together, why do they stay together, what splits them up. We have shifted to discussion of CoP's with the suggestion of designing a specific CoP that focuses on career development for the students and alumni of this program.
In another course, the students have worked on a project with the goal of increasing the sense of community within the degree program. There were a lot of after-class questions to the effect of, "What's the difference" between community-building and setting up a community of practice. Indeed.
At the first pass, a CoP is a subset of Community. They both groups of people; people with a common something; people that identify with the community; maybe even with goals around improving things for the community.
A Community of Practice is a community in which people are gathered around a very specific practice. I think of them as more formal than the generic "community." On the other side, I think of communities as forming naturally out of the shared needs of the members, where CoP's are created or formalized due to another need. Communities can be very strong and clear-cut, or they can be quite loose and hidden. Some streets in our area have annual block parties, where they block off the street and organize food and games. One of my students gives a great example of the weak-yet-still-important community in academics. CoP's - to reflect the practice - need to be formal and have some central structure that isn't necessarily in the definition of "community" alone.
So, to answer the students' question, community-building activities, as they have been rolled out for the students, are around developing a sense of cohesiveness and shared goals and desires. A lot of it has to do with helping the students get to know one another and develop a kinship to the (relatively small) academic program. The CoP for career development is to be a specific community of students who are looking for help with and to help one another with their careers. There would be goals and leadership of this group. I'm guessing that a strong MS-LOC community will enable this CoP to operate more effectively.
I wrote most of this off the cuff. In looking back through my notes, I found Nancy White's reference on the topic, How Some Folks Have Tried to Describe Community - Update 2005.