‘Man is by nature a social animal’ – Aristotle, Politics
Welcome to the first post of the Developing Communities of Practice Coffee Course. In this post we will take a look at the various components that make up a community of practice, discuss why people take part and how they can benefit teaching practice and support the professional development of educators.
What exactly is a CoP?
What do you think a Community of Practice is? Add an image or some words to share with this community to the Communities of Practice Padlet: https://padlet.com/u1049980/nuh2xe5h2zgw
The term Communities of Practice (CoP) is relatively recent, however the concept has been around for a long time (Wenger, 2010). So what then is a CoP? Wenger, McDermott and Snyder (2002) describe communities of practice as: ‘Groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis’ (p4). A CoP is connecting and collaborating with others to read, share, ask questions, and discuss a shared interest; it is social learning. (If you are interested in social learning theory you can read more about it in our coffee courses Facilitating Effective Discussions and Seven Key Concepts for University Teaching and Learning). A CoP can take place anytime, anywhere, face-to-face, in online spaces or a combination of both and can involve people within and outside your discipline and institution. Online environments can provide opportunities for networking and collaboration that are flexible and are not limited by barriers to do with time and location.
How is a CoP different to a working party, committee or meeting? Unlike other types of work related groups, teams or committees, membership in a CoP is voluntary and it is the members themselves that determine the agenda, outcomes and lifespan of the CoP depending on who’s involved and the purpose or collective goals of the group. Because of this CoP create: ‘… a bottom-up, member-driven approach to engage in generative dialogue around learning and teaching practice’ (McDonald, 2014, p7). Perhaps you have been part of a community of practice, or maybe you would like to consider getting one started.
Have you been part of a CoP? What went well and what were the things that made it successful? What didn’t work and why? Share your experiences in the discussion forum.
There are three essential elements to a CoP
- A domain of knowledge that creates a common ground and sense of common identity
- A community of people who care about the domain and create the social fabric of learning
- A shared practice developed to become effective in the domain
(McDonald, 2014, p69)
Benefits and Affordances. What’s in it for you?
Do you tend to operate as a lone wolf or do you enjoy being part of the pack? Maybe you dabble in a little of both. Let’s look at some of the benefits to being part of a CoP and what’s in it for you as an educator.
Adapted from Cultivating communities of practice a quick start-up guide. (Wenger, 2002).
The complex and competing pressures of being an educator can sometimes become overwhelming. A CoP can provide a collaborative social environment to explore and solve complex issues of practice. Teaching can demand so much of you and it’s easy to get caught up in the needs of students and requirements of your institution or department/area, such that you might find you haven’t been able to fully explore a problem, passion or particular interest. With a network of like-minded people engaged in shared practice a CoP can offer collegial support and assist in bringing time, energy and focus to something that really interests you, that on your own you just never had the capacity to explore.
“With communities of practice – I know I’m not alone.” -University of Southern Queensland Community of Practice member (McDonald, 2014, p7).
The Australian University Teaching Criteria and Standards set out to ‘clarify what constitutes quality teaching’ (Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching, 2015). They are designed to be utilised for performance development review, career planning and progression. Criterion 6 constitutes evaluation of practice and continuing professional development. Knight, Tait and Yorke (2006) make the following points about professional development in higher education:
“Firstly, spaces need to be found for this activity, for the creation of shared meaning. Secondly, power relationships within activity systems need to encourage collegiality and participation. Thirdly, appropriate procedures and practices are needed; in higher education this is often represented by the capacious notion of ‘reflection’.” (p332)
Being part of a CoP can be an avenue for professional development and can improve your teaching by allowing for fresh ideas, cross pollination, critical feedback and reflection. Through CoP teachers can learn and share experiences and expertise, seek inspiration, solve problems and evaluate practice and literature.
Where to next?
How do I join or start a CoP, and what if it doesn’t go to plan? Stay tuned, the next 2 posts in this Coffee Course will explore how to create a community of practice and some of the challenges, misconceptions and possible solutions.
If you are interested but haven’t yet taken part in a CoP why do you think that is, what are the barriers that hold you back? (we will be discussing some of the challenges in the final post for this Coffee Course so stay tuned). Share your thoughts in the discussion forum.
References and Futher Reading:
Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching (2015) Australian University Teaching Criteria and Standards Framework. Available: http://uniteachingcriteria.edu.au/framework/indicative-criteria/indicative-standards-criteria/
(2006) The professional learning of teachers in higher education, Studies in Higher Education, 31:3, 319-339.
McDonald, J. (2014) Community, Domain, Practice: Facilitator catch cry for revitalising learning and teaching through communities of practice, ALTC Teaching Fellowship University of Southern Queensland. Available: https://altf.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/McDonald-J_NT_Final-report_-2014.pdf
McLoughlin, C., Patel, K.D., O’Callaghan, T. and Reeves, S. (2018) The use of virtual communities of practice to improve interprofessional collaboration and education: findings from an integrated review, Journal of Interprofessional Care, 32:2, 136-142. Available: https://doi.org/10.1080/13561820.2017.1377692
Wenger-Trayner, B., Wenger-Trayner, E. (2015) Introduction to communities of practice: A brief overview of the concept and its uses. Available: https://wenger-trayner.com/introduction-to-communities-of-practice
Wenger, E. (2002) Cultivating communities of practice a quick start-up guide. Available: https://wenger-trayner.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Start-up-guide-EN1.pdf
Wenger, E. (2010) Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept. In Blackmore, C. (Editor) Social Learning Systems and communities of practice. Springer Verlag and the Open University. Available: https://wenger-trayner.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/09-10-27-CoPs-and-systems-v2.01.pdf
Wenger, E., McDermott, R. and Snyder, W.M. (2002) A Guide to Managing Knowledge: Cultivating Communities of Practice, Harvard Business School Press Boston, Massachusetts. Available: http://cpcoaching.it/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/WengerCPC.pdf