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Not a community of practice? Creating safe spaces with multitudes of functions


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SEDA Annual Conference 2016

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Not a community of practice? Creating safe spaces with multitudes of functions

  1. 1. Not a community of practice? Creating safe spaces with multitudes of functions Dr Petia Petrova and Dr Marios Hadjianastasis Centre for Learning and Academic Development & Learning Spaces University of Birmingham
  2. 2. Your communities of practice • What are these? • What makes them work? • What are benefits of your communities? • What difficulties have your communities faced? • Do your communities have any shortcomings?
  3. 3. Reading Group • Initially bi-monthly meetings • Discussing key texts (From Rousseau to Paschler) • Developed into a regular monthly event • Open to all at Birmingham and beyond • Currently: 16 meetings with 3 themed strands • Mostly participants from our PGCert/PGTA programmes, but also others in academic and ‘para-academic’ roles
  4. 4. Academic Practice Writing Group • Writing pool model (Murray and Newton, 2009) • 2014-15 - launched • 2014-2016 - monthly writing days during the academic year • 2016 - additional writing days in the Summer months • 2016 - additional writing half days introduced in October
  5. 5. Academic Practice Research Group • Discontinued in 2015 after convener left the university • Purpose to share research in progress • Intended to be taken over by colleagues elsewhere and deliver a top- down training, not launched due to lack of interest • Currently considering approaches to restarting this under the Academic Practice Group umbrella “Their health depends primarily on the voluntary engagement of their members and on the emergence of internal leadership. Moreover, their ability to steward knowledge as a living process depends on some measure of informality. Once designated as the keepers of expertise, communities should not be second-guessed or overmanaged.” (Wenger et al. 2002, p.12)
  6. 6. Relationships of communities to organisations Relationship Definition Typical Challenges Unrecognised Invisible to the organisation and sometimes even to the members themselves Difficult to value and be aware of limitations, may not involve everyone who should participate Bootlegged Only visible informally to a circle of people “in the know” Getting resources, having impact, keeping hidden, gaining legitimacy Legitimized Officially sanctioned as a valuable entity Broader visibility, rapid growth, new demands and expectations Supported Provide with direct resources from the organisation Scrutiny: accountability for use of resources, effort, and time: short- term pressures Institutionalised Given an official status and function in the organisation Fixed definition, overmanagement, living beyond usefulness Source: Table 2-1 p.28 (Wenger et al. 2002)
  7. 7. Why CoPs might not be the term • Domain: an area of shared interest that the community explores (not a task, project) • Community: Regular interaction, pursuing personal passion, internal leadership (but no managers – as learning requires an atmosphere of openness) • Practice “socially defined ways of doing things in a specific domain a set of common approaches and shared standards that create a basis for action, communication, problem solving” (p.38)
  8. 8. Cultivation v/s management • About shared domain • Transcending departments and units • Flat – based on enthusiasm • Supported - not controlled • Growth – not ‘excellence’ • Apprenticeship – how are new colleagues introduced to that shared knowledge base • Opportunities for influence of institutional policies and practice, but no measures of performance • Requires multitude of shared spaces and groups to support, sustain and allow for growth of those involved
  9. 9. Conclusion • Academic practice groups - opportunities for expression of values • Limited impact • Balancing impact with freedom • Need to re-think developing institution-wide communities of practice • Challenges posed by HE policy changes and marketization of HE • Consideration of what a functioning community may look like
  10. 10. References • Lave, J. and E. Wenger (1991). Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation. New York, Cambridge University Press. • Murray, R. and Newton, M. (2009), “Writing retreat as structured intervention: margin or mainstream?”, Higher Education Research & Development, Vol. 28 No. 5, pp. 541-53. • Wenger, E., McDermott, R and Snyder, W.M. (2002). A guide to managing knowledge: cultivating communities of practice, Boston, Massachusetts, Harvard Business School Press.