Supporting communities of practice; relationship, collaboration and operational learning

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1 Supporting communities of practice; relationship, collaboration and operational learning Mark Stone - Associate Dean, Teaching & Learning University of Plymouth Colleges faculty UPlaCe Repository: HELP CETL:

2 Workshop description and objectives Outline interventions made or supported by the work of the Higher Education Learning Partnerships (HELP) Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) to support and facilitate communities of practice across the University of Plymouth Colleges (UPC) partnership. Key lessons learned and challenges identified with explored. Explore community of practice facilitation interventions in practice Understand a range of issues, challenges and opportunities in supporting diverse and dispersed communities of practice Some of this presentation has been adapted from: Stone M., Turner R., Dismore, H. & Groucutt C., (2009) Supporting an Art and Design Community of Practice Across an HE in FE Network, in Dialogues in Art & Design, promoting and sharing excellence, pp , ISBN [a Group for Learning in Art and Design (GLAD), ADM HEA Subject Centre publication].

3 Some theory Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly (Wenger, 2007). A CoP is formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared area of interest and requires the following characteristics: the domain; the community; the practice. The domain is the area of interest; the community is formed by the relationships (conversations, discussions, etc.) between members; and the practice is what community members do with learning derived from their interaction.

4 Some theory Lave and Wenger (1991) described CoP as a set of relations amongst persons, activity and world, over time and in relation with other tangential and overlapping CoPs. The proposition is that we are already involved in a number of CoPs, in some we are core members; in others we locate ourselves at the margins. CoP develop over time around things that matter to people. When people work together they invariably form many informal networks of relationships that go beyond organisational structures. However, a great deal of the work that assists the operation of many organisations is carried out through these informal connections.

5 Some theory Successful communities, as well as influencing and changing the organisations within and across which they operate, also influence and change the way that members view their own identity both within and external to the community. For a CoP to function it needs to generate and appropriate a shared repertoire of ideas, commitments and memories. It also needs to develop various resources such as tools, documents, routines, vocabulary and symbols that carry the accumulated knowledge of the community. In other words, a CoP involves practice: ways of doing and approaching things that are shared to a significant extent amongst members (McDermott et al., 2006). Furthermore, supporting communities of practice can be particularly important for HE in FE lecturers struggling to negotiate dual sector institutions (Bathmaker & Avis, 2005).

6 Some theory CoPs can offer something that a single organisation, workplace or localised team can never provide, e.g. access to a diverse pool of knowledge, expertise and motivated individuals. CoPs tend to be less formal and controlled than many regular workspaces but more structured and integrated than groups, teams or networks. However, as they are developed and sustained by their members they can never fully replace organisational systems of communication or professional development (McDermott et al., 2006).

7 Some further reading Bathmaker, A-M. and Avis, J. (2005) Becoming a lecturer in further education in England: the construction of professional identity and roles of communities of practice, Journal of Education for Teaching: International Research and Pedagogy, 31 (1): Dixon, N., Allen, N., Burgess, T., Kilner, P. & Schweitzer, S., (2005) Company Command: Unleashing the Power of the Army Profession, West Point: Center for the Advancement of Leader Development & Organizational Learning. Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991) Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. McDermott, A., Witt, N. and Stone, M. (2006) Communities of Practice in the University of Plymouth Colleges Context. HELP-CETL Information Series No McDermott, A., Witt, N., Stone, M. and Peters, M. (2007) Knowledge Exchange Network Community Leader Guide [Version 2.0]. Higher Education Learning Partnerships, University of Plymouth. Stone, M., Witt, N. and McDermott, A. (2006) What is the UPC Knowledge Exchange Network? HELP-CETL Information Series No Tight, M. (2004) Research into higher education: an a-theoretical community of practice, Higher Education Research & Development, 23 (4): Turner R., Hughes J. & Brown T.(2009) (Eds) Putting the I into Identity and Other Stories, Scholarly approaches to the professional identity and development of HE practitioners in FE Colleges, a Joint HELP CETL / Escalate publication, ISBN Wenger, E. (2007) Communities of practice. (accessed 05/01/ 07). Witt, N., McDermott, A., Peters, M. and Stone, M. (2008) Community experience success factors for communities of practice. Online Educa, 14th International Conference on Technology Supported Learning & Training, Berlin, 03-05/12/08.

8 Communities of Practice [CoP] in UPC UPC includes 18 FEC colleges and other institutions working in partnership with the University of Plymouth to offer HE opportunities to 10,500+ students throughout the South West region. This work involves 1,500+ college based academic, support and professional staff. UPC Communities Were in existence Had potential Could build on research informed practice Were rewarding and exciting Were risky - unpredictable Were a sign of maturity However, Communities of Practice judged in retrospect

9 Condensed Learning about Communities and Supporting Communities of Practice

10 A Top 20 of CoP Issues 1. The experience of effort in isolation 2. Excellence can t be rewarded prior to recognition profile and activity 3. For communities to be useful they need to work with and provide enhanced access to both formal and tacit knowledge 4. For meaningful discussion to start and be sustained it must focus on interest and passion, worthy but dull does not cut it 5. Communities and CoP working takes time and therefore involves issues of relative value 6. Community membership is voluntary 7. Communities can t be created or designed, but can be facilitated 8. Participation is flexible and variable

11 A Top 20 of CoP Issues 8. Discretionary effort is what drives communities 9. A leader or coach is important 10. Communities blur, work across and sometime ignore organisational and other boundaries 11. Rewards, recognition and support come from within but can also be provided from without - validation, approval and permission 12. The results of CoP working is personal and organisational change - professional identity 13. Communities and participants are often transitory 14. The practice of CoP working infects other contexts 15. CoP are not just for academics e.g. subject, role and interest communities [e.g. art and design, librarians and blended learning]

12 A Top 20 of CoP Issues 16. Online CoP working provides value added / a substitute for face to face but is harder to sustain, a different form of CoP and very hard as a starting point 17. Hard to demonstrate the value of CoP support and operation as is analysing types and levels of CoP engagement 18. Harder still is to determine how much community working is enough or appropriate 19. Many confusing factors when assessing the impact and seeking to support the sustainability of a CoP / CoP working 20. One factor is the rapidly moving environment and with multiple collaborations and connections, it is sometimes hard to judge the effect of your intervention - however the term community has become pervasive within UPC

13 Examples of CoP facilitation interventions along with key lessons and challenges an Art and design focus

14 CETL CoP interventions Intervention and rationale Support for individual staff within the UPC network CETL funding has allowed work with a greater emphasis on individual development to be supported and evaluated. Activity, impacts, lessons learnt and challenges The CETL award holder scheme [AHS], provided individuals with funding to support research and CPD. CPD included professional updating, industrial placements and conference attendance. Research projects were wide ranging, including exploring the use of video conferencing by media students, graduate employability and establishing HE communities within a college. However, the secret of success of the AHS for CoP development was the support of award holders beyond their initial project funding; they are invited to further disseminate their work, encouraged and supported to bid externally for further funds and connected to colleagues with similar interests within UPC and beyond.

15 CETL CoP interventions Intervention and rationale Support for individuals working beyond the UPC network While the CETL bid highlighted talent within UPC, external exposure and collaborations were limited. Activity, impacts, lessons learnt and challenges a) A college-based project funded jointly by the HEA ADM subject centre and CETL investigated the experience of students undertaking enterprise education. This helped to inform the value of an enterprise module and in particular, the experience gained of the design industry. b) UPC and the CETL supported a recent National Teaching Fellowship application. The confidence for staff to write about their development as well as the value of their practice has come from long-term interaction with multiple support structures and the mutual trust and respect this develops.

16 CETL CoP interventions Intervention and rationale Support for groups of staff CETL funding allowed groups to explore how they might take their work forward. Activity, impacts, lessons learnt and challenges a) Critical and contextual studies staff within colleges and the university used a private online community within the CETL- developed Knowledge Exchange Network (Stone et al., 2006) to peer review their curriculum and the assessment of student work. b) CETL support was also provided to facilitate the establishment of a higher education art CoP at a college. This has led to ongoing, collegewide discussion of the art curricula, a culture of sharing practice and research and development collaborations not previously envisaged. Significantly, this work led to new lines of communication between community members and college managers focused on art and design issues. The forum has benefited from regular events hosted at the college. However, while the CoP members have benefited from this work, such developments are often overly reliant on the initial leader to drive activity and remain fragile entities until they reach a critical mass of members that have together formalised their way of working.

17 CETL CoP interventions Intervention and rationale Multiple channels of dissemination and celebration To encourage staff from multiple organisations/roles to collaborate and know of each other as colleague professionals Activity, impacts, lessons learnt and challenges Individuals or groups who have undertaken Continuing Professional Development (CPD) activities or research projects within the forum are also encouraged to write short articles for their newsletter or CETL circulars. The drive to establish the forum newsletter was an outcome of discussions aimed at initiating a UPC art and design research group. The format allows for the flagging up of small scale and large developments. A great added benefit has been to distribute the newsletter to external examiners, which has led to CoP member links beyond UPC. The CETL circulars help to highlight the range of CoP activity across UPC.

18 CETL CoP interventions Intervention and rationale Support for groups of staff CETL funding allowed groups to explore how they might take their work forward. Activity, impacts, lessons learnt and challenges a) Critical and contextual studies staff within colleges and the university used a private online community within the CETL- developed Knowledge Exchange Network (Stone et al., 2006) to peer review their curriculum and the assessment of student work. b) CETL support was also provided to facilitate the establishment of a higher education art CoP at a college. This has led to ongoing, collegewide discussion of the art curricula, a culture of sharing practice and research and development collaborations not previously envisaged. Significantly, this work led to new lines of communication between community members and college managers focused on art and design issues. The forum has benefited from regular events hosted at the college. However, while the CoP members have benefited from this work, such developments are often overly reliant on the initial leader to drive activity and remain fragile entities until they reach a critical mass of members that have together formalised their way of working.

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