Evaluating the effects of a Community of Practice on teaching
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
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
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
they have less
time to develop
and share good
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Practice’ (CoPs) allow
participants to share
common concerns to
fulfil individual and group
goals (Lave and Wenger
1991; Wenger et al.
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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)
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)
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.
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)
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
2017 Update – Action Research in CoPs:
the Beachball Model
Gabi Witthaus & Keith Pond, CABS LTSE 2017 (Inspired by Weller, 2016)
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
Gabi Witthaus: email@example.com
Chris Wilson: firstname.lastname@example.org
Alex Wilson: email@example.com
Image by Orin Zebest on Flickr, CC-BY
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pp.266–275. Available at: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1056492613505908.
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Wenger, E., McDermott, R.A. and Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge.
Boston: Harvard Business Press.
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