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Evaluating the effects of a Community of Practice on teaching


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Presentation at Higher Education Academy Conference, July 2017
Co-authored with Alex Wilson and Chris Wilson

Published in: Education
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Evaluating the effects of a Community of Practice on teaching

  1. 1. Evaluating the effects of a Community of Practice on teaching Higher Education Academy Conference, July 2017 Gabi Witthaus, Alex Wilson, Chris Wilson School of Business & Economics
  2. 2. Overview  Background  How the CoP was established and implemented  Level of participation and how participation varied across different types of academics  Perceptions of participants and non-participants  Impact on teaching practice, and how this differed across different types of academics  Update – linking CoP to action research
  3. 3. Motivation  Enhancing teaching standards is more important than ever with the advent of higher tuition fees, increased sector competition and regulation. Image by Pieter Pieterse on Flickr, CC-BY-NC-SA
  4. 4. However… Pressure on academics to undertake other activities is increasing… so they have less time to develop and share good teaching practice. Image by Cory Denton on Flickr, CC-BY
  5. 5. Background ‘Communities of Practice’ (CoPs) allow participants to share common concerns to fulfil individual and group goals (Lave and Wenger 1991; Wenger et al. 2002). Image by laurent on Flickr, CC-BY-NC-SA
  6. 6. Evolution of CoP approach 1. CoPs arise spontaneously (1990s to present) 2. CoPs are deliberately set up and managed/ facilitated (2000s to present) 3. Individuals participate in a ’landscape of practice’ across multiple CoPs (2014 to present) (Omidvar & Kislov, 2014)
  7. 7. CoPs in Higher Education  In HE, CoPs have been employed to stimulate dialogue to enhance teaching practice  Lindkvist (2005); Roberts (2006); MacKenzie (2010).  Benefits of CoPs for participants: Collegiality, dialogue, sharing of knowledge, social learning and collaboration  Nixon & Brown (2013); Ward & Selvester (2012); McDonald et al. (2008); Mayne et al. (2015)  Institutional culture change – practitioner-led innovation  Almond & Haugham (2015)
  8. 8. Need for evidence  Evidence documenting the impact of CoPs on teaching practice remains scarce.  This project established a CoP comprising face-to- face events, together with online resources.  The project was conducted within the School of Business and Economics (SBE), a Triple- Accredited business school with over 140 academic staff and 3,500 students.
  9. 9. Method – establishing the CoP  Three face-to-face CoP sessions involving buffet lunch, presentations on teaching experiences or topics by experienced staff, and open discussion.  Online resources were also provided (video recordings, audio podcasts, presentation slides and a discussion board for further interaction):  i)Teaching to Large Groups (May 2015)  ii) Feedback and Assessment in Large Groups (Oct 2015)  iii) Engaging Students in Large Groups (Feb 2016)
  10. 10. Method – surveys  ‘Exit Survey’: After each event, new participants (offline and online) were surveyed to assess their perceptions.  ‘Impact Survey’: Three months after the last event, all participants were surveyed to measure how the CoP had influenced their teaching practice.  ‘Non-Participant Survey’: In April 2016, all non- participants were surveyed to assess their perceptions.  The latter two surveys were conducted online with a £50 Amazon voucher prize draw.  Additional demographic data collected for staff members.
  11. 11. Analysis - participation  33% of staff participated in the CoP online or offline.  Out of all participants, 68% interacted only offline, 17% only online, and 15% both offline and online.  Online, presentation slides were accessed the most– then discussion boards, and video and audio recordings.  Significant effects of rank on participation: 47% of all lecturers and senior lecturers participated, while only 7% of all readers and professors participated.  Weaker effects - less likely to attend if part-time, submitted to the last REF, or if they been at L’boro for a longer time.
  12. 12. Analysis - perceptions  86% - ‘likely or very likely’ to participate again  81% - would encourage another colleague to attend  66% - likely to use something that they had learned from the CoP  CoP found to be most relevant for encouraging staff to:  talk about teaching to their colleagues,  seek support from their colleagues,  try novel ideas.  Common reasons for non-participation: too busy or other commitments.
  13. 13. Analysis - impact  51% of participants responded to the ‘Impact Survey’  58% reported an ‘impact’ – use of material and/or ideas from the CoP to support their teaching.  Most popular forms of impact: rethinking my teaching approach (29%), updating my teaching skills (25%), and designing new material (25%).  Common reasons for no impact: lack of time/ opportunity.  Overall, 71% agreed that the CoP had led them to think differently.
  14. 14. Analysis - impact  Lecturer participants significantly more likely to report an impact than senior lecturer participants.  Hence, staff of higher rank seem less likely to both participate and report an impact.  Weaker effects - staff with fewer research interests are more likely to report an impact (e.g. T+S staff, and staff that were not submitted to the last REF).  Remains a challenge to engage a broader range of staff.
  15. 15. 2017 Update – Action Research in CoPs: the Beachball Model Gabi Witthaus & Keith Pond, CABS LTSE 2017 (Inspired by Weller, 2016)
  16. 16. Sample Action Research Questions 1. What actions do my students take as a result of the feedback I give them? 2. In what ways does the provision of Lecture Capture affect my students’ learning? 3. What factors related to my teaching make my students feel more included? 4. What impact does group work skills training have on the outcomes of group work? 5. What do my students understand by ‘independent learning’?
  17. 17. Gabi Witthaus: Chris Wilson: Alex Wilson: Image by Orin Zebest on Flickr, CC-BY Contact
  18. 18. References  Almond, N. & Haughan, P., 2015. Leading the University wide development of learning and teaching using a network of communities of practice. The Business & Management Review, 6(5), p.2015. Available at:  Lave J., Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation (Learning in Doing: Social, Cognitive and Computational Perspectives). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  Lindkvist, L. (2005). Knowledge Communities and Knowledge Collectivities: A Typology of Knowledge Work in Groups*. Journal of Management Studies, 42(6), pp. 1189-1210.  MacKenzie, J., Bell, S., Bohan, J., Brown, A., Burke, J., Cogdell, B., Jamieson, S., McAdam, J., McKerlie, R., Morrow, L., Paschke, B., Rea, P. and Tierney, A., (2010). ‘From anxiety to empowerment: a Learning Community of University Teachers’, in Teaching in Higher Education, 15(3), pp. 273-284.  Mayne, W., Andrew, N., Drury, C., Egan, I., Leitch, A. & Malone, M. (2013). “There’s more unites us than divides us!’ A further and higher education community of practice in nursing. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 39(2), pp.163–179.  McDonald, J.Collins, P., Hingst, R.D. & Lynch, B. (2008). Community learning: Members’ stories about their academic community of practice, in Engaging Communities. Engaging Communities; 31st HERDSA Annual Conference, (March 2016), p.10.  Nixon, S. & Brown, S. (2013). A community of practice in action: SEDA as a learning community for educational developers in higher education. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 50(4), pp.357–365.  Omidvar, O. & Kislov, R. (2014). The Evolution of the Communities of Practice Approach. Journal of Management Inquiry, 23(3), pp.266–275. Available at:  Roberts, J., (2006). ‘Limits to Communities of Practice’, in Journal of Management Studies, 43(3), pp. 623-639.  Ward, H.C. & Selvester, P.M. (2012). Faculty learning communities: improving teaching in higher education. Educational Studies, 38(1), pp.111–121.  Weller, S., (2016). Academic Practice: Developing as a Professional in Higher Education. London: Sage.  Wenger, E., McDermott, R.A. and Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Boston: Harvard Business Press.
  19. 19. Licence This presentation, excluding the images, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Please see individual images for attribution and licence information. Presentation on Slideshare: